Darkest Hour - _The Human Romance_
(E1 Music, 2011)
by: Johnathan A. Carbon (5.5 out of 10)
Melodic death metal is usually the conduit between death metal and everything else. The style offers the gruff qualities inherent to death metal along with the pop sensibilities of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. One of the style's most recognizable traits is the eagle like twin guitar harmonies which swoop and soar through a song, album, or entire career. While the style is lighter and more accessible than its unshaven death metal older brother, melodic death does offer a variety of treasures and polished gems. While Washington DC's Darkest Hour is not one of those gems, their recent albums have been anything but tedious or unlistenable. _The Human Romance_ is the band's seventh release, giving the very familiar melodic death style a reflective shine.

Darkest Hour spent half of their career in relative obscurity with only mixed reviews to comfort them. Then came 2005's _Undoing Ruin_. Taking the melodic death base and strengthening it with rhythmic metalcore gave Darkest Hour the break they desperately needed. The overnight success led to two more consistent albums of equal praise.  Darkest Hour returns attempting to walk the line between credibility and lucrative album sales. The cover for _Human Romance_, however, may have just sent them careening over to one side. Listen, I understand the image of two lovers skeletonized and half buried by earth looks good and even may sound cool when spoken out loud.  But when it's the first thing someone sees, it may not be the best idea. Unless you're Atreyu, which you're not. The heavy handed symbolism and 10th grade poetry of the cover gives _The Human Romance_ a big black "X" on its report card for design. This complaint comes after having credible artwork from Baroness front man John Baizely adorning their previous record.

The cover does act as an omen for the music which will soon follow. Musically, _The Human Romance_ pours oil over the gears, leaving an album running at twice its speed with half its creative energy. Darkest Hour's choice to restrain emotive choruses is admirable, and has kept them in good graces on previous albums. _The Human Romance_ continues in this tradition despite the feeling of a plaintive cry lurking around the corner. Every song on _The Human Romance_ dips and dives, setting itself up for the inevitable melodic crooning. But the cathartic nirvana desired by fans is only teased, leaving the vocals to swim through gravel for the remainder of the album.

While Darkest Hour has kept their head above the adolescent waters, _The Human Romance_ is not without its mood swings and teeming angst. "Violent by Nature" has a built in gang chorus which espouses the pains of unrequited desire. Almost every song on _The Human Romance_ deals with some type of struggle derived from relationships, religion or society. This may be normal for Darkest Hour, but never has it felt so polarizing.

The closing epic "Terra Solaris" has the band stretching the song structure to the ten minute mark. The long instrumental has not been included since their 2003 _Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation_ . Despite the song sounding almost identical to "Veritas, Aequitas", it builds tension and atmosphere before imploding with the type of violence that could only come from an unexpected guitar solo. This instrumental metaphor showcases the band's ability to gain much distance before ultimate self destruction.

Most of the enjoyment for Darkest Hour is derived from guilty escapism into the emotional landscapes which construct screamo, metalcore, and half of melodic death. _The Human Romance_, for better or worse, works as it should. It is played with the type of proficiency and showmanship expected from a band entering their second decade. Despite near bliss for some listeners,  _The Human Romance_ fails to challenge their audience -- treating them more as consumers rather than intelligent participants. By the end of the album, stomachs are saturated with too much sentimental syrup. This leads to aches, pains, and possible regret for the over-indulgence.

Contact: http://www.myspace.com/darkesthour

(article published 25/2/2011)

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