In the beginning, it almost seemed like a terrible mistake, but it was destiny that heavy metal and punk would eventually crossover. In the early 90s, heavy metal was bloated and uninspired while punk rock was becoming more and more pretentious and disgruntled. Aggressive music needed a rebirth; moreover the two styles needed a renaissance. It was this marriage of thrash/speed metal’s power and the savagery of hardcore punk that would ultimately spawn a new age in heavy music.
Bands like Venom, Exodus, Discharge, Cro-Mags and Integrity took that initial spark of the crossover ethos and reinvigorated the sound each and every time, thus continuing the legacy and inspiring countless followers.
Fast-forward to 1995 in Washington DC where (what many would consider the home of modern hardcore music) another chapter of both hardcore/punk and metal history would be written. Classically unassuming and, in many ways, keeping in true punk spirit, DC gave birth to the band that would bring both genre’s even closer.
That band is DARKEST HOUR.
A bastard child born of the mid 90s punk/metal/hardcore movement, DARKEST HOUR combines the passion, energy, and soul of punk/hardcore with the style, speed, vengeance and fury of melodic speed/thrash/death metal.
In this decade-without-a-name, DARKEST HOUR defined the entire New Wave Of American Metal sound and gave the metal and hardcore/punk world a revitalization it surely needed. This new style blended the raw, hardcore punk of the 80s with the Scandinavian death metal of the 90s and forged a sound that would later become the template for modern metal.
Their first recordings, The Misanthrope and The Prophecy Fulfilled, although bitter and raw with the sound of a young band searching to find its own identity, planted the initial seeds in the late 1990s for what was about to become legendary. DARKEST HOUR would eventually cross paths with producer Brian McTernan who then recorded their first full length, The Mark of the Judas. It was one of the most talked about debut albums of the period; an absolute monster of a thrash record. Plagued by label problems, The Mark of the Judas, although not widely promoted caught the attention of Chicago, IL based VICTORY RECORDS and in 2001 they joined theVICTORY RECORDS family. Later that year, DARKEST HOUR recorded and released their second full length, So Sedated So Secure.
We caught up with Darkest Hour guitarist, Mike Schleibaum via e-mail.
JW: What’s Darkest Hour’s inner darkest secret?
JH: Really, it’s to do what you want when you want. We’ve toured for almost 14 years and have seen, well, more then a few unspeakable things. But the one thing we have learned is that, as an artist, you must first please yourself in order to create something that has a chance of pleasing others. Oh, and it has to both fun AND hard or you’re just not trying!
JW: What artist would make your dream matchup, that is, which artist/group in another genre would the band like to perform with? Record with? both?
JH: Hmm, we have been lucky enough to play with some of Metal’s greats (Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer, At the Gate) and we would love to perform with some of the others: Megadeth, Metallica, Anthrax, Opeth, In Flames. Also, I love NIN, and shit, I wouldn’t mind even rocking a show or two with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, or even the man himself, Snoop!
JW: Why did you add a second guitarist to your group prior to your first LP release, “The Mark of the Judas?”
JH: I was writing all the guitars at that point, and although I would write parts that sounded great on the record, playing live without another guitarist, things just didn’t seem full. It was impossible to make the twin guitar harmonies stand out and sound good when just one dude was playing them.
Definitely, adding a second guitarist rounded out the sound of the band and made it a much better experience live. There are many things I like better about being the only guitarist in a band, but none of those reasons outweigh the fact that live, nothing sounds better then two sick ass guitars harmonizing!
JW: Your group bounced around from a couple of independent labels from, including the defunct M.I.A. label, eventually securing a deal with Victory Records. Did the changes in labels distract the group from making music? Are you enjoying your new home at Victory?
JH: Label changes and record distribution problems always interfere with creativity. And, yes I would say that all the different things this band has been through definitely are distractions. I mean it’s hard to create a record when you’re worried about how you’re going to keep the lights and heat on. At the same time we’ve survived, and you know what they say, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.
JW: Why did the band form? Did you guys have an objective? And when did the group know that it made the transformation from garage band to pro recording artists?
JH: We started the band in high school for only one reason, to rock hard! Our sole mission was to do one thing, play a show! Once we met that goal, we just kept rolling. Soon our goal was to tour, travel the world, and next thing you know, 14 years later, we’re touring musicians! Who knew! I know we never did! The trick in the music biz is that you have to always adjust your goals. Right now, I think our goal is to put out bad-ass tunes, rock killer metal shows, and hang hard!
JW: Brian McTernan’s work as producer in 2000 was a pivotal point in the group’s success. What did Brian bring to your follow-up collaboration “The Eternal Return?”
JH: Brian brought a lot of things to the table as a producer, but the one thing that was undeniable was his perspective. Brian understands where the band has come from but also had a good sense of where it should head. He made sure to help keep us on the right path, and for that we will be forever grateful!
JW: What advice would you give to future start-up groups as to how to develop staying power that is needed to be successful in the music business?
JH: Man, I always say this, keep your eyes on the real goals of musical life. If money, fame, and fast times are all you crave, I fear you will end up empty and probably making bad music. You have to stay focused and understand that the ONLY thing that is timeless, the only thing that matters is music. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.
JW: How stoked was the group to have their song “Demon(s)” as part of the Guitar Hero video game?
JH: Oh very stoked! We love the game and play it all the time. Although we would much rather encourage kids to rock a real guitar and jam with their friends, I have to admit that shit is fun. So take a break from rocking every once and while and check it out. Guitar Hero is fun; it’s just not a replacement for real guitar and really making music. – Oh but I fucking love the Weezer song on GH5! So awesome!
JW: The group has been together since 1995 and has seen a lot and experienced a lot both on and off the road. How will the group prepare for their upcoming tour with Trivium?
JH: The same way we always do; a long band practice or two and an even longer party!
JW: How do you guys define the Genre “melodic death?” and how does the group drive that genre?
JH: To me, it’s obvious, the “melodic” refers to the guitars (ala. In Flames, Dismember, Dark Tranquility, The Haunted, Arch Enemy, Dimension Zero etc.) and sometimes the vocals. The “death,” this is derived more from the speed and fury of the band. It’s like this: melodic crushing guitars, thundering bass, powerful driving drums, and pissed as fuck dark ass vocals! – That’s a recipe for some killer ass Melodic Death!