Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Darkest Hour - Archives CD Review

Here we are again, presented with the inevitable cash-in re-issue release by a label looking to capitalize on a band after they've garnered a significant amount of popularity. Instead of seeking out new talent to cultivate, which is what a smaller label like A-F Records should be focusing on, there’s always the re-package and re-release “out of print” material route to take. Darkest Hour, having created the awesome Undoing Ruin for Victory Records now has a fanbase much larger than what they did when they were releasing EPs in their Washington DC area, and deservedly so, because Undoing Ruin was a monster of a metal disc. That being said, how many current Darkest Hour fans really need to or want to hear the rough version of the band from their first days, nearly 10 years ago?

Archives is a collection of Darkest Hour’s first two EPs (The Prophecy Fulfilled and The Misanthrope) along with an unreleased song and alternate versions of the songs from their EPs. Any uber-fan of Darkest Hour is going to have the original EPs so the alternate versions and unreleased track would be the only reason to pick this disc up, and it’s just not worth it.

Before touching on the new material, however, it should be pointed out that the remastering of the two EPs from their source tapes was at least tackled with a little bit of care. The songs, despite their age, come through to the other side sounding very good. Of course, with these tracks coming from the beginning of the Darkest Hour history, it is apparent that they were still finding their sound, at times trying to take on an epic, death metal feel while at other times focusing more on shredding and their more classic metal elements. The biggest difference between today’s Darkest Hour and yesterday’s is in the vocal department. You’ll notice a stronger focus on the deathy, pseudo-scream growls on this re-release. Many times, unfortunately, they feel forced and unnatural, such as on the song “This Curse”, but when you’re still finding your direction, that is to be expected.

Now, to take a look at the alternate versions of “This Side of the Nightmare”, “Reflections of Ruin”, and “This Curse”. First, you’ll note the clarity in comparison to the originals. There is a stronger audible differentiation between the various instruments on “This Side of the Nightmare”, but on the other two the recording quality is merely a slight bit better, still being a little murky. The differences between the versions of the songs is very, very slight with really the only thing being done are a couple of re-worked small passages within the songs. There are no real overhauls to be found, just small tweaks.

The unreleased track, “Faith Like Suicide”, isn’t truly unreleased as it was featured on a vinyl split with Groundzero, but the likelihood of anyone actually owning that is pretty small, so you can sort of think of it as unreleased. Oddly, this track is by far the best thing to be found on this disc. It has a very epic metal feel to it that sounds very mature, despite its age.

Again, in the end when confronted with a cash-in release such as this, it just isn’t worth the money, even if you are a fan. The old stuff is out of print for a reason — it wasn’t necessarily all that good. And the bonus alternate and unreleased tracks that are tossed on aren’t all that great either. Go spin Undoing Ruin a few more times because this would be a disappointment and waste of your money.

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