Darkest Hour Continues to Ride the 'American Vegan/Straightedge/Metalcore' Wave


  • Pete Duvall
When high school friends Mike Schleibaum and John Henry launched the hardcore/metal band Darkest Hour in the D.C. suburb of Fairfax, Virginia, they intended to “ride the wave of American vegan/straightedge/metalcore."

Twentysomething years on, they're still riding that wave. The band performs with Rotten Sound, Ringworm and Rivers of Nihil at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Agora Ballroom.

“After years of playing the local scene we garnered enough support to start touring nationally,” Schleibaum explains in an email interview.  “Our sound has shifted of course, but our roots are very much like any band, formed out of simple friendship. We have changed a few members over the 21 years we have existed, but John and I have always been the driving force, and we’re happy to carry on tradition and keep putting out crazy metal albums. It is what is in our souls, I guess.”

At the time, D.C., which has a rich hardcore history that dates to the ‘80s, nourished the kind of abrasive music that Darkest Hour put forth.

“D.C. was, and still is, an amazing place to live and experience live music,” says Schleibaum. “We have always had a very open culture that has been fertile soil for many amazing bands. It’s really a secluded music scene in a way, even though it is a major U.S. city and the capital of the entire country. I think that seclusion allows for it to act also like a small town music scene. For those two reasons and also the fact that it's where we have grown up living and breathing music our whole life, we love D.C.”

When Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation came out in 2003, it included a few political tunes that suggested the band's music had a strong message buried underneath the snarling guitars and parched vocals.

Hidden Hands is a very open and obvious political album,” says Schleibaum. “We pull no punches, and I think it's easy after you dive in to see where the band stands on a lot of simple, basic political issues. To us, the personal is political and vice versa. We couldn’t be true to the idea of what this band is without letting at least a little (and sometimes a lot) of our ideology into our music. Put simply, a Darkest Hour show is a place that everyone is welcome, no matter what label they themselves or the outside world puts on them. We believe metal can be more unifying than religion or nationalism and that sentiment is at the core of the album.”

Last year, the band launched a crowdfunding campaign for its latest album, Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora. Schleibaum describers the response as “overwhelming.”

“ To say that it was easy or simple [to fund the album] is a lie,” he says. “We had to work hard throughout the campaign, putting together the album, and, of course, launching and releasing the new jams. In the end, it's been rewarding, but it's its own beast. We couldn’t be more thankful for those who funded this project. They truly helped us make an awesome album."

The songs center on a theme about man versus nature, but Schleibaum says fans can take from the songs what they will.

"The whole album has a theme but the songs have dual meanings, as in they stand alone as songs that can be relatable but also serve the greater story,” he says. “On previous albums, we were very upfront about our political and social commentary. Although I think it will be easy for those of you to get the idea of where we stand, I think this narrative form allows for us to tell the story in a more nuanced way. 'Pick up the ACTUAL album, read the lyrics and THINK FOR YOURSELF.' That’s what we say.

Producer Kurt Ballou ensured the songs would become some of the heaviest the band has ever cut.

“Working with Kurt was awesome,” says Schleibaum. “He is a seasoned veteran and knew exactly how to find his way to have a voice in the bigger picture. Every time we work with a producer, their influence really feeds into the album, Kurt is no exception, his sound is there but at the same time, he fully helped us make the album we wanted to make and he let us drive the ship in any direction we felt. His studio, GodCity, was the perfect vibe. We camped out there and just lived the album 24 hours a day for a little over a month. Honestly, it was one of the most easily paced recording experiences we ever had; we thank him for his hard work and are sure you will hear his influence on this record for sure.”

Schleibaum says the formula that works so well on the album will undoubtedly translate nicely to the live show.

“You add Darkest Hour fans + Darkest Hour + Kurt Ballou + Greg Anderson / Southern Lord = one hell of a beast of an album,” he says. “We’re proud to serve it up fresh. We can’t wait to hit the road and play these songs live.”

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