By Andrew Bansal
(photos by Matt Nielson)
March 10th 2017, The Regent, Los Angeles CA: To promote the release of their ninth full-length studio album ‘Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora’, longstanding Washington D.C. band Darkest Hour embarked on a US headline tour in February, and made their way to Los Angeles with touring openers Ringworm, Tombs and Rivers Of Nihil, on Friday March 10th, the actual release day of the new album via Southern Lord Records. The event took place at The Regent and also featured Black Rheno and Puncture as additional openers, and would turn out to be quite the eclectic treat of great heavy music.
Doors opened at 6 PM, and at 6:40, Los Angeles band Puncture took the stage to open proceedings. Their set was delayed by 10 minutes because of backline malfunction, but once they got going, they quickly made up for lost time and left a positive first impression with their mere 15-minute set, playing some crusty hardcore, grindcore and power-violence, much in a similar vein to that of bands like Nails. A crushing start to an evening filled to the brim with sonic heaviness.
Many might have assumed that the next band Black Rheno was also a local opener, and dismissed them as such to not even bother turning up early enough to catch their set, but those in attendance would consider themselves fortunate enough to bear witness to this Australian band’s first ever show outside of their home country. Having been added to this event only a few days prior, they were in Los Angeles en route to their appearance at SXSW in Austin, Texas and decided to make use of their time here by playing a short set. They surely served as a great addition to an already stacked bill, the three-piece not even making the absence of a bass player felt, working around the lack of one by using a combination of low guitar tuning and effects. The trio, led by the entertaining frontmanship of vocalist Ryan Miller (akin to that of his compatriot Matt Young of King Parrot) and equally well supported by guitarist Mariano Palomaries and drummer Doug Martin. Black Rheno’s infectious blend of sludge, hardcore, grindcore, groove and funk was a bonus prize for the early birds at the Regent.
The first band of the touring lineup was Reading PA tech death quintet Rivers of Nihil, taking the stage at 8 o’ clock and ripping it to shreds with their highly skilled delivery of complex, intricately woven yet unmistakably brutal and easy to appreciate extreme metal tunes. Even with just two full-length albums to their name, they are already proving themselves to be masters of their craft, and taking influence from the likes of Death and Obscura, they are taking heavy metal to new extremes, clearly evident on their studio recordings and even more so on stage. Jake Dieffenbach was as solid a vocalist as any on exhibit at this event, and all five members showed their class in their respective roles. If at all there’s such a thing as the New Wave of American Extreme Metal, Rivers of Nihil are certainly one of the forerunners of it.
Brooklyn NY band Tombs were next, and sonically as well as visually, they stood out as different from the rest of the pack. Instead of the red light that bathed all five of the other bands, Tombs showered themselves in blue instead, which was an instantly noticeable variation to begin with, and then their brand of no-frills, no-bullshit, no-gimmick black metal formed a vice-like grip on the very consciousness of most in the audience. Mind-numbingly heavy and unrelentingly dark and intense, Tombs maintained and enhanced their flawless, stainless reputation in the Los Angeles area with this fantastic performance, having put on incredible shows in the past both as headliners and openers. Fronted by the imposing presence and personality of guitarist/vocalist Mike Hill, Tombs came to destroy, and didn’t stop until they did. For fans of black metal that love the genre purely for its sound and not for extraneous, often contrived elements of imagery, Tombs is, in every possible sense, second to none.
The event had moved along swiftly, and by the time the clock struck 9:40, the main support act Ringworm was already on stage. These metallic hardcore veterans from Clevelend, Ohio have been in existence since 1991 and never strayed from their path, currently touring in support of their seventh full-length ‘Snake Church’ (2016). Their output on studio albums has been undeniably consistent and unwaveringly powerful, and anyone seeing them for the first time here would have held high expectations, and hopes of walking away becoming an even bigger fan after witnessing the live show. But unfortunately, based on this set, that couldn’t be the case because Ringworm failed to replicate the fire and fury of their albums in this live performance, severely lacking stage presence and sounding extremely one-dimensional and monotonous. The vocal delivery or the guitar, bass and drum play was by no means bad, but simply didn’t carry the ability to draw the crowd nearer to the stage, instigate mosh pits or turn first-timers into fans. On a night that did not disappoint otherwise, Ringworm’s set was a huge disappointment.
And lastly at 10:30, headliners Darkest Hour stormed onto the stage with ‘Knife in the Safe Room’, the scorching, devastating opening track off of the new album, and in contrast to the preceding band, there was already action aplenty in the pit as the crowd squeezed in to the front few rows. Although they only played a 12-song, 55-minute set that was short by headline band standards, it was high on intensity and violence, and was, in the truest sense of the term, all-killer and no-filler. Besides three great selections from ‘Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora’, they chose songs from most of the other eight albums and compiled a set that new as well as longtime fans could enjoy in equal measure. The band has kept on fighting the good fight since 1995, but the absolutely stellar new record is somewhat of a reinvention of the band, whether intentional or not, and gives them the second wind to carry on for many more years to come. This newfound fervor is also clearly there to be seen and heard in their live show, as this was the best set they’ve played in LA in many years.
Vocalist John Henry came across as a complete professional in his delivery as well as interactions with the crowd between songs, knowing exactly what and how much to say, and when to say it. Guitarists Mike Schleibaum and Mike Carrigan were in their element as well, very much enjoying every moment on stage, while the rhythm section of Aaron Deal (bass) and Travis Orbin (drums) formed a strong backbone and seamlessly transitioned through the varying styles and tempo. Staying true to their hardcore roots but still injecting the right amounts of melody and placing great importance on songwriting and song structures, Darkest Hour have always had all it takes to be accessible and respected across the board in the realm of heavy music, but on this tour they’re showing it better than they have in a long time. Here, they put forth quite the masterclass with a 55-minute slab of their musical repertoire, from the 2000 debut album all the way to the 2017 LP released on this day, and leaving no one in any doubt about who the rightful and worthy headliner is in this lineup.
Overall, a concert worth several times the money you’d have paid for it, and a tour completely deserving of being attended by every metalhead in the country, for this is a group of bands out on the road to take no prisoners whatsoever.
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Darkest Hour set list:
01. Knife in the Safe Room
02. For the Soul of the Savior
03. Doomsayer (The Beginning of the End)
04. No God
05. Timeless Numbers
06. Savor the Kill
07. Violent by Nature
08. Those Who Survived
09. Marching to the Killing Rhythm
10. With a Thousand Words to Say but One
11. Rapture in Exile
12. The Sadist Nation
Remaining Tour Dates:
03/13/2017 – Tucson, AZ @ Club XS
03/14/2017 – Albuquerque, NM @ The Compound 2
03/15/2017 – Lubbock, TX @ Backstage Lubbock
03/16/2017 – Austin, TX @ Grizzly Hall
03/17/2017 – Houston, TX @ White Oak
03/19/2017 – Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Bar & Grill
03/21/2017 – Cincinnati, OH @ Northside Yacht Club
Related MA link: Album Review: Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora