Sound — 8
With their long-running stint signed to Victory Records coming to an end in 2009, Darkest Hour's recent years have been considerably nomadic, both in terms of label and style. Their first post-Victory album, 2011's "The Human Romance," sought to expand their standard melodeath sound with richer instrumentation and more melodious songwriting, with the aid of Soilwork's Peter Wichers as producer. Its gentler sections and spattering of clean vocals ended up being a precursor for their self-titled 2014 album, which aimed to pivot the band's sound into something more mainstream-friendly, but in turn, spurred outcries from long-time fans about the band going soft.
Likely being unsatisfied with the result as well, Darkest Hour's ninth album, "Godless Prophets & the Mindless Flora," abstains from the shinier demeanor of their previous album, and from having the inimitable Kurt Ballou produce the album, to reuniting with former guitarist Kris Norris for extra guitarwork, Darkest Hour make a triumphant return to their aggressive songwriting. Along with their tried-and-true melodeath dished out in "This Is the Truth," "Timeless Numbers," "Another Headless Ruler of the Used" and "Last of the Monuments," as well as a dose of blackened death metal in "The Flesh & the Flowers of Death," the band pack even more punch in the album with a notable amount of hardcore influence (chalk it up to Ballou's presence), heard in "Knife In The Saferoom," the galloping "Those Who Survived," and the feedback-obsessed "In The Name of Us All."
As concerted of an effort it may be to make up for lost vigor, Darkest Hour don't cast away all gentler songwriting elements in "Godless Prophets..." While only a trace of clean vocals are heard from a distance in "The Last of the Monuments," and the acoustic-led interlude of "Widowed" that calls back to the similar interludes in 2007's "Deliver Us," spatial guitar breaks used in "None of This Is the Truth" and "Beneath It Sleeps" balance out their initial melodeath drive with a calmer, post-rock quality.
Lyrics — 8
Whereas frontman John Henry wrote some more emotional lyrics to go with some of Darkest Hour's less-aggressive metal songs in their previous album, Henry goes back to delivering full-scale misanthropy in "Godless Prophets..." Whether it's raging against both the church and the state's abusive influence on the world ("Drown any semblance / Of power of privilege of state / The plight of the sainthood" in "Knife In The Saferoom"; "The savage recital / Of war hymns forgotten / War pigs for profit" in "The Flesh & the Flowers of Death"; "We sacrifice to / Godless prophets / Liars entombed / Another headless ruler of the used" in "Another Headless Ruler of the Used"), or turning the criticism inwards and lamenting his own folly in "Enter Oblivion" ("I've bled my life / For foolish devotion / And foolish pride"), the miserable examination of human existence is well-worn territory for Henry and death metal en masse.
Besides that general theme of doom and gloom, a more specific theme that recurs in "Godless Prophets..." is humanity's manic fascination with discovering the unknown, regardless of the self-destructive effects. Traveling its own arc in a few songs, Henry harangues the behavior in "This Is the Truth" ("Why are we so violent / To grasp at the unknown? / Because there's so much / That we can't see"), and portrays it in a tale of forsaken exploration in "Those Who Survived" ("From the wreckage we crawled / Broken and bloodied we go on / We must move forward / We must continue into the beyond"), and finishes the album just short of resolution in "Beneath It Sleeps," where the dread felt about a doomed human existence dovetails with the hopes of a transcendental revelation ("I feel I may have finally / Cracked the code / To sustaining and maintaining / A vibrant and healthy / Human life"), but Henry's teetering epiphany cuts off at the end ("And what I've come to discover / Has been nothing more than-"), representing an unattainable ideal.
Overall Impression — 9
In their long-spanning catalog, Darkest Hour have attempted to expand from their heavy melodeath roots a number of times, though never truly being satisfied with the change. Similar to how 2009's "The Eternal Return" retreated from the prog-minded aspirations of 2007's "Deliver Us," "Godless Prophets..." is another re-appeal to the band's aggressive songwriting mindset that was backseated in their previous self-titled album, and for any metalhead who was dissatisfied with that previous album, Darkest Hour make up for it by bringing their gloriously unforgiving metal energy back in spades.