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The first Darkest Hour song I've ever heard was "The Sadist Nation." Amazing song. My favorite Darkest Hour song ever. Set the bar high for when I finally got my hands on "Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation," to be sure. Alas, "Hidden Hands" was one, repetitive, LOOOOOONG song. Except for "Veritas, Aequitas" and the aforementioned "The Sadist Nation," I was bored while listening. Now, when I heard that Darkest Hour was working with Devin Townsend for "Undoing Ruin," my interest piqued; Townsend was and still is one of my favorite musicians, and I wondered what he would do with Darkest Hour. Turns out, he worked a miracle. Bar none, one of my top 5 releases of 2005.
The Townsend influence is heard immediately; "With a Thousand Words to Say But One" opens with some ambience before the main riff comes in at 40 seconds. The song is an amazing opener; technical guitars, sexy harmonies, an intelligible John Henry, Ryan Parrish's above par drumming and even a bass fill!
The riffs are memorable without simplifying them for the sake of making the memorable; in fact they are more technical than anything I've heard of from Darkest Hour before or since. There's an abundance of solos, as well; another large plus, as guitarist Kris Norris is more than capable of creating technical, melodic solos that stick in your head. Listen to the leads in "Ethos" for, in my opinion, the best example of this. As well, Ryan Parrish's drumming, a highlight of "Hidden Hands," is awesome here, too; his fills are creative and he doesn't overplay, knowing when to flash his chops and when to lay back and provide a solid background. Paul Burnette, while mostly just hanging back and providing the low end foundation, throws in a couple of fills here and there, and with some of the guitar riffs, it is a testament to his playing ability that he can keep up with Norris and Mike Schleibaum. John Henry has definitely stepped it up vocally, as Townsend said in an interview, he now pronounces his consonants; intead of going "BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA BLAAAAA BLAAAAAAAAAA" he goes "BLAAAAA BLAAAAAA BLAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRT." They are intense, emotive, and easily understood, which is always a plus when reading along.
Speaking of lyrics, the band has definitely stepped it up in the lyrics department. As pointed out by AMG's review, they have turned away from fish-in-a-barrel topics like religious and government corruption, the prescribed society, and apathy. On "Undoing Ruin," the band turns inward and introspective, and they add an element of hope to every song, a nice welcome change from the negativity of their previous albums, and metal in general.
The differences between the production of this record and "Hidden Hands" are like night and day. Where "Hidden Hands" was just a cacophony of drums and guitars and vocals all competing against each other for the listener's attention, a mindless drubbing that really grated on the listener after a while, this album's production is virtually flawless. It's crystal clear, sharp, and every instrument is given its own space. There's also an epic feel that permeates the record, which is no doubt the work of Townsend's production. It is at least three heads above all of Darkest Hour's past efforts.
In short, this album is amazing. It's too short (37:49), but this is a great thing; it makes me want more, while "Hidden Hands" was overlong and got me sick of the band. "Undoing Ruin" is by far the best Darkest Hour has ever done in every aspect, and easily one of my top 5 of 2005.
With a Thousand Words to Say But One
This Will Outlive Us
Sound the Surrender
These Fevered Times