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Darkest Hour 

Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation (Victory)

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Listening to the triumphant hooks of Darkest Hour's third album is like hearing the resounding chorus of horns that must have erupted when viking warriors routed their enemies. Instead of fighting barbaric hordes, however, this D.C. quintet has spent the past eight years battling the stale conventions of Nordic metal.

Guitarists Mike Schleibaum and Kris Norris would never deny their love of forbears like At the Gates and In Flames, but they also take cues from the economical riffage and unrelenting speed of American hardcore. On Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation, they merge the two traditions in a way that's sure to impress followers of either genre, blending vibrant, colorful leads with pit-churning riffs. Singer John Henry evades both the falsetto crooning of old-line metal and the gruff hollering of new-school hardcore, instead spitting out his pseudo-political rants in a venomous rasp.

The biggest surprise here is that the album was recorded in Gothenburg, Sweden, with guest appearances by Swedish guitar greats Anders Björler (At the Gates), Marcus Sunesson (the Crown), and Peter Wichers (Soilwork). Their blazing solos meld perfectly with the rest of the album. Sound the horns -- this new metal is a triumph.

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