, thepowerhouse metal quintet from WashingtonD.C. recently released their fifth full-length record,The Eternal Return
. This being their last album on their current record deal with Victory Records, it sees the band return to their more aggressive roots. The band and producer Brian McTernan
(Senses Fail, Thrice, From Autumn to Ashes) recorded the album at McTernan
'sBaltimore,MD-based Salad Days Studio.
As Darkest Hour
guitarist Mike Schleibaum
says, "This record has no hidden agenda, no pop hit, or stylistic departure to broaden the fan base. Rather, it is a sick thrash, speed, melodic, metal record! It feels like it has all the aggression and speed of our Hidden Hands record, the melody and songwriting of Undoing Ruin, and the technicality and musicianship of Deliver Us
". In this interview, Schleibaum
discusses the new album, the addition of a new guitarist to the band's line-up and touring with Joe Matera
UG: With the new album The Eternal Return, did the songwriting process differ from your previous efforts?
Well we wrote the record in five months. Lonestar (Mike Carrigan) and I spent a lot of man hours hashing out every riff and working on every harmony. This was absolutely a record that was made for and by guitar dudes. We eat, sleep, and shit riffing on a guitar and for five months we riffed it out. I would say the main differences in how we approached the record were: a) we spent a lot of time working on making sure the songs felt good all the way through. On the previous records, the songs were seen as more of a string of riffs that lead you to one place. On this record we tried to focus more on, if all, the riffs and parts that interconnected well enough, making sure, that each part worked well for the song in general. And b)I think we did a lot more reflection while writing this record. On other records it would be very common for me to not even listen to an older Darkest Hour record let alone even play one of the old songs. On this record since Lonestar was new, I felt his perspective made us take a look at what we had done in the past in a new way. That's what I think really makes this record sound fresh and new.
The album is a lot more aggressive in nature and very much sees a return to the band's aggressive roots. Was that intentional or a natural progression to have come full circle?
It was our intention to go more aggressive. I mean it's why we all love fast melodic metal. But I don't think we did it with a conscious effort in mind. In other words, I don't think we were like let's go back to the old sound' I think we were more like, man lets fucking riff out some kick ass brutal metal.' I guess it just so happens that this translation works with the older sound. So I think it was a natural progression to come full circle and that's why it feels so right.
Was it laborious when it came to the recording process?
"It was our intention to go more aggressive."
It was a lot of fun but also a lot of work and hard times. Doing anything you love is never easy and doing something you love the best you possibly can, that's going to come with some long sleepless nights. I guess in the end I can say that I am so happy with the end product that it doesn't matter to me how much work it was to get there. But thinking about doing it again right now makes me cringe. We love jamming and working out songs but putting a record like this together, as old as the band is now, is just really emotional and like I said comes with some sleepless nights.
You returned to work with producer Brian McLennan for this album, whom produced your debut album. Why did you return to Brian?
We really love Mr. Devin Townsend - who produced both Undoing Ruin (2005) and Deliver Us (2007) - but we felt like we wanted to take the sound in a different direction. Since we replaced Kris with Lonestar, we could have done two things. We could have called up Devin and said, dude, let's do Deliver Us Part 2!' Or we could have go shake it up and change the sound a bit. Obviously we chose the latter and wanted to shake the whole boat. We thought whoever can we work with that, knows where the band has come from but also understands where we might want to go'. Brian seemed like a perfect choice. It's been almost nine years since we worked with him and he has grown a lot. We have grown a lot. It just felt right and I can tell you that after hearing the final result I am stoked. That's not to say you won't see us record another Devin record. That man is a genius and he is very responsible for how the band sounds now too.
Kris Norris left the band prior to the recording sessions, how did that affect the process?
It was definitely a bump to get over in the beginning. Just because any new person in the scenario is going to change the chemistry a little bit. But that change in chemistry was ultimately for the better because with Lonestar on board, we were really able to redefine and reshape how we do things. All while getting some fresh blood into the mix.
Was it an acrimonious parting?
Let's just say that it was clearly time for things to change. I love Kris as a dude and wish him all the luck. But living this life out here can get really complicated and in the end it was just what was in the cards. I don't think either side, holds any ill will and I am sure you will hear plenty from Kris, as he loves to riff.
What qualities has Lonestar brought to the band?
Lonestar brings a really fresh vibe to the band. He is a younger dude who hasn't surfed the highways as much as us. So every day is something new for him. On the other hand, he has played in bands for years so he knows the score and fits right in. It was really great to write and record the record with a dude who is really motivated and excited. It's contagious too, because when you're around a dude with a good vibe, it just builds good vibes.
Let's discuss gear, what did you use for the album?
"On this record we tried to focus more on, if all, the riffs and parts that interconnected well enough."
For amps we used a Randall MTS Kirk Hammett signature head as well as the Fender EVH 5150. Those were the two main heads although we also did some blending with a Marshall JMP that producer McTernan had hidden around. We used one Marshall cabinet the whole session although we did try a few others. As for effects, there are a ton of outboard pedals we used. I tend to like those way more then rack effects. Maybe it's the little Sonic Youth in me, but I like to turn knobs and stuff so I like them to be right in front of me. Of notable mention are a Boss Pitchsifter/Delay, a Line 6 Delay, a Line 6 Phase Shifter, a Line 6 Chorus, an EVH MXR Phaser, an EVH MXR Flanger, a Zakk Wylde Dunlop Wah Wah pedal, a Dunlop Slash Wah Wah, and last but not least, my favorite, a Digitech Whammy Pedal.
How did you and Lonestar approach each other's respective guitar parts?
Lonestar and I approached things a bit differently than most guitar teams. So we're not advertising who does what. To us, all that matters is the end result. Either it's a sick riff or a sick tune. It doesn't matter who plays what, or even who plays what better. To us its total team work, every guitar note you hear on the record, was slaved over and totally analyzed by both guitar players and the guitar playing is a product of both dudes wood shredding it out.
Is your live setup different to the studio set up?
No, it's pretty much the same. Live, both Lonestar and I use the Washburn Nuno series guitars. We love them, as they fucking rip! And it is actually the main guitar used on the new record. In fact, when you come see the band play, you will probably see each of us play on one of the only four ones we have. I use the Randall MTS Kirk Hammett head and Lonestar uses the Fender EVH 5150. I use Randall cabs and Lonestar uses the EVH ones. Until we break it all, we are using the same gear we recorded with.
How do you think your guitar sound evolved since the band's early days?
It's strange because it's always been under the umbrella of Swedish Metal but the riffing has changed over the years. I would say right around the Hidden Hands era, we started to get really focused on the guitars as that's when we added the first solos into Darkest Hour songs. And then when went and recorded the two records with Devin. Then the whole thing blew wide open. I credit Devin Townsend with taking the Darkest Hour sound and guitar-i-fyi-ing it up. Sure we had the talent and love, but he had the vision.
This is your last album for Victory Records, do you plan to re-sign with them or move forward with a new label?
The future right is in front of us and there are many different avenues we can chose to take. It's all kind of overwhelming, so it's not like we have really come to terms with it all. It's a strange feeling to think we will be unsigned artists. Strange but exciting at the same time I guess.
You're currently on the Summer Slaughter Tour, how is it going?
The tour is ten metal bands every night so it's an all day metal-rage-extravaganza. I love touring with so many bands because you get to meet so many players and so many dudes. It's like being with a traveling party. Where ever this whole tour goes, a raging party follows.
So do you enjoy being on the road?
"The future right is in front of us and there are many different avenues we can chose to take."
We tour about eight months out of the year and it can be pretty grueling. But it is what we live to do. Live shows are the backbone of what this band is about so touring is something we love to do all the time.
Do you think the whole metal core scene that Darkest Hour is part of, continues to be a vital part of the overall metal scene or do you see the genre continuing to evolve beyond it?
Yes, but it's strange. While I do agree that Darkest Hour is in many ways, one of the forefathers of the Metal Core scene, I have to argue that that scene has changed greatly from when it first started. To me, Darkest Hour is a metal band. Sure we have punk, hardcore, and even pop influences but that doesn't make the band anything else but a metal band. It's hard to know if Metal Core will become a genre that will survive forever or if it will eventually just get swallowed up by metal. One thing that is true, metal is becoming more and more popular in America which is really good for those of us who live it every day and no one who loves this type of music can argue with that.
What else can we expect from Darkest Hour this year?
We plan to tour for the rest of this year in the U.S on the new record. We finish with Summer Slaughter on July 20th then head on over to Europe for a week of Fests in August, then its back to the USA where we'll do a full U.S tour of with Trivium and Suicide Silence. After that, there is talk, of a Kataklysm tour of Europe so who knows. One thing's for sure though, we'll be bringing The Eternal Return to your city this year
Interview by Joe Matera