Darkest Hour, "Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation"
As much as I like Darkest Hour, I have always been the band's biggest critic. This band has all the potential to get bigger and become one of the forerunners of the U.S. melodic death metal scene, but due to previous label mishaps as well as some stagnation in the sound, Darkest Hour has not been able to blossom at a rapid speed that many of its fans would have desired. With that in mind, I was approaching Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation not as a long-time fan, but as an unbiased onlooker. From the first time I saw Darkest Hour at some low-key punk rock festival in Bradenton, Florida, I developed a soft spot for these five badly dressed lads who captivated the listener with their brand of metallic fury. The band consistently continued to improve, releasing the very underrated, albeit short, The Prophecy Fulfilled EP, following that release with an absolute standout – The Mark of Judas, an album full of memorable, melodic, yet razor sharp guitar riffs. However, the band's progression stopped with the average, in my opinion, So Sedated, So Secure, which, with the exception of the first track, relied heavily on too many forgettable guitar riffs and repetitive song structures.
The expectations for the new album were high, especially after learning that Darkest Hour befriended Tomas Lindberg on their U.S. tour with The Crown, and made a trip to the world's cradle of melodic death metal – Gothenburg, Sweden to record its new album with Fredrick Nordstrom (At the Gates, Dimmu Borgir, Arch Enemy). I knew that for Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation to impress me, it had to build more on the mid-tempo speed and the melody of The Mark of Judas that was so dearly missed on So Sedated, So Secure. In that department, Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation is a mixed bag of goodies as the band [unwisely] follows the same formula it did on So Sedated, So Secure, yet, not without making major changes and improving its sound, overall.
The album starts out with what with time will become the band's answer to For the Soul of the Savior as the number one requested song by the kids at the shows. Sadist Nation has it all: melodic riffs, fast double bass drumming, an incredibly catchy chorus, and thought provoking lyrics that are powerfully cried-out by the man himself, Tompa.
Unlike So Sedated, So Secure, which presented a rather boring affair with only 3 pretty good songs (Epitaph, The Hollow, and Treason in Trust), Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation contains plenty of memorable moments that are worth noting. The slow, melodic guitar break at the end of Pay Phones and Pills (3:50), the breakdown in the middle of Oklahoma (1:51-2:23), the song based on the real-life events that happened on The Crown/All That Remains tour when the band was jailed by the Feds in Oklahoma, the guitar riffs in the middle of Marching to the Killing Rhythm (2:23-2:38 and 2:55-3:10), and the anthemic opening of Patriot Virus, show a band that has matured and is finally on the right path of discovering its own sound. However, just like its predecessor, Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation is plagued by two major shortcomings: the lack of melodicism and variation in speed.
Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation contains plenty of good ideas and guitar riffs. However, there is simply not enough melody to make some of these songs stand out. Moreover, Darkest Hour rarely slows things down. By “slowing down,” I don't mean going from fast to slow, but merely adding more variety to the drumming. Ryan spends most of the time bashing away and forgets about the groove that is a major factor why an album like Slaughter of the Soul is the revering point in the modern history of melodic death metal. A helpful suggestion for the future is to go back to Sadist Nation and hear how everything works to perfection.
Another one of my complaints is in the production by none other than Fredrick Nordstrom. While many will enjoy his production of Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation, the sound is too raw in places, and is very reminiscent to the production on One Kill Wonder by The Haunted, i.e., it sounds as if the band recorded these songs live in the studio, which makes some of the faster parts sound a bit messy. However, this is only a minor complaint for the album that is a much stronger output than So Sedated, So Secure.
Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation sees still a young band that is extremely close to discovering its full potential and hitting it big with the fans and the critics alike. What Darkest Hour needs to do for its next full-length is to concentrate more on creating melodies rather than riffs, and to find itself a producer who is not only known for his past accomplishments and playing in a horrendously cheesy metal band, but one who can take the band to the next level.