Darkest Hour: 'Passion is more important than perfection'

Darkest Hour

DC death metal mainstays Darkest Hour are releasing their ninth studio album Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora on March 10, and Metal Hammer is exclusively streaming their new track Those Who Survived.

Coming at the end of side A (if there is such a thing in this digital world), guitarist Mike Schleibaum describes the song as “the dark end to act one of our story.” And it is very much a story. Darkest Hour’s upcoming album is based around the concept of mother nature being the most powerful force in existence and that she will eventually reclaim what is hers.

“There is clear social and political commentary on the album as well,” Mike tells Hammer. “Things that are happening in the USA and all over the world are touched on heavily. Since we wrote and recorded this album, so much has changed over the course of the year, so we must not ignore that influence on the lyrics and sound.”

The album originally started as an IndieGoGo campaign but will now be released on Southern Lord. “We just wanted to give this album a wider audience,” says Mike. “We really believe in it and want to give it the best chance possible to find new and excited ears!”

Southern Lord actually released the band’s first album The Mark Of The Judas on vinyl, but this isn’t the only return to the old-school as former guitarist Kris Norris helped in the writing stages after an eight year departure.

To get a greater understanding on the new album and to find out where Darkest Hour are at right now, after recently celebrating their 20th anniversary, we had a chat with founding member Mike Schleibaum.

What is the story behind Those Who Survived?

“Unlike some of the other songs, which were demoed repeatedly and composed in different ways electronically, this song was written old-school style in the jam room. We haven’t leaned on our thrash tendencies in a long time so it felt good to stretch out and do a song like this.

“It’s sort of an homage to the classics that we grew up loving. This song combines our love for Metallica, Slayer, At The Gates, and Carcass all in one. Another interesting aspect of this song is that it does not feature a solo – I sort of love that about it. Don’t get me wrong, the album is jam-packed with shredding and we are never shy about professing our love for all things guitar solo-related, but I love that this song stands on its own as a straight riffer!”

You launched an IndieGoGo campaign for pay for the album, why did you go down that route?

“We have released nine full-length albums on eleven different labels over 21 years, and the common thread has been that we have had to adapt to survive. The industry has changed a lot since we started and although to some, crowdfunding might seem strange, it’s not all that different from the way we started this band. Growing up in the Washington DC punk and hardcore community, bands were taking their own path against industry trends and doing things DIY was commonplace. We’ve learned from our local idols that control of your art is often the highest payment, so once we wrapped our heads around our plan to pull this thing off, we decided that crowdfunding could be for us.

“That’s not to say that the label model is bad at all. In fact, Southern Lord Records has been very important in the completion of the project and the release of the album on a much larger scale. Both our fans and Southern Lord gave this album fertile soil to grow.”

Are services like IndieGoGo the future of the music industry?

“Not at all, the future is what you make it. There is never one path, but many to achieve artistic freedom and artistic fruition. This worked for us now but I’m not sure it would have at other points in our career. Our years of experience definitely helped navigate the process but there are again many ways to make an album, so I don’t think one is the future of it all.”

What is the meaning behind the album title Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora?

“Unlike some of our earlier works, this album has more of a narrative happening lyrically. Rather than being a collection of songs all about something different, this is an album where all the songs work together to help tell a story. Don’t get me wrong, all the songs on the album work completely by themselves, but we’re really proud of the story that is discovered as you peel back the message of the album.

“Godless Prophets can refer to either us as a band, the powers that be who profess godliness but practice something more sinister, or the main character of our story who most of the lyrics are written from the perspective of. The Migrant Flora is the other active force the in the story. This idea is taken loosely from the idea that plant life is the most evolved species on the planet – mother nature will ultimately have its voice heard in the struggle for planetary balance.”

What was it like working with Kurt Ballou to produce the album?

“Working with Kurt was awesome. He is a seasoned veteran and knew exactly how to have a voice in the bigger picture. Every time we work with a producer their influence really feeds into the album, and Kurt is no exception. His sound is there, but at the same time he really 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.”

You collaborated with Kris Norris on the album, what was it like working with him again?

“Kris and I have kept in touch ever since he and the band parted ways. We always talk music, songwriting and guitars. I mean, we all live and breathe this music so it’s a common bond we share. Plus we see anyone who has ever graced the stage with the band as a brother, so he has been around this entire time as an influence one way or another. But it was our lead guitarist Lonestar who had the idea to bring Kris in and collaborate with him this time. Kris co-wrote about three of the songs and I think you will hear his voice in the songwriting and playing for sure.”

Is Kris back in the band for good?

“In a touring sense, no. Darkest Hour is officially: Mike, John, Lonestar, Deal, and Orbin. But we resign the right to do whatever we want, whenever we want. In the end the album, the songs, that’s what matters. The attitude is to create the best music possible.”

You’ve been a band for over two decades, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned in that time?

“Stay true to yourself, your band, and the team you chose to surround your band with. Trends and fads waver like the tides but true, honest music is always appreciated. In this modern age of record making, passion is more important then perfection. Creating a song that connects with someone else is a truly magical experience and that magic is something that you must never lose sight of.”

Darkest Hour’s new album Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora is out March 10, via Southern Lord.

And they’re heading out across Europe with Venom Prison in April and May.

28 Apr: IBoat, Bordeaux, France
29 Apr: Les 4 Ecluses, Dunkerque, France
30 Apr: The Flapper, Birmingham, UK
1 May: Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff, UK
2 May: Underworld, London, UK
3 May: Underground, Köln, Germany
4 May: Patronaat, Haarlem, Netherlands
5 May: De Klinker, Aarschot, Belgium
6 May: Hafenrock-Festival, Hamburg, Germany (Darkest Hour only)
7 May: BETA, Copenhagen, Denmark
8 May: Cassiopeia, Berlin, Germany
9 May: Poglos, Warsaw, Poland
10 May: 007, Prague, Czech Republic
11 May: Conne Island, Leipzig, Germany
12 May: Feierwerk, München, Germany
13 May: Viper Room, Wien, Austria

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Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.