Matador Review

A Quarterly Missive of Alternative Concern

Young Man Finds A Knife In The Safe Room

Jim Hepplewhite is The Matador Review’s in-house reviewer. 

In a previous life, Jim was a music blogger.
In this life, he's a freelance editor. He can be reached on Twitter and Instagram.

Darkest Hour didn’t go anywhere, I walked away. The DC band performs and records melodic death metal, with varying degrees of musician moments since Darkest Hour’s inception twenty odd years ago. Sometimes, they go a bit prog or power metal. But Darkest Hour’s through line remains Swedish melodic death metal.

They’re blue chip American longhairs who play the genre with frankly bankable ferocity. A Darkest Hour record is fast, precise and heavy isn’t news, that’s a fair description of their entire catalog. (Incidentally, try their 2005 record, Undoing Ruin.)

Which brings us to Knife In The Safe Room. It’s the opener on their technically second Southern Lord full-length (a vinyl version of The Mark Of Judas twenty years ago is their first). Knife In The Safe Room is just as vicious as the name implies. It’s a sub three minute monster that carries the torch of legendary leftist bands like Carcass and Napalm Death into the Trump administration and Knife In The Safe Room severs flesh like the title implies.

Darkest Hour gets through a verse and two choruses in fifty nine seconds, powered by Travis Orbin’s aggressive use of blast beats and flawless double bass pedal. The guitar solo which headlines the bridge is great, but it’s the staggering breakdown (slow part) that’s the showstopper. If played live, and there’s a receptive crowd, folks in the mosh pit should lose teeth when they hear it. Knife In The Safe Room is topped off by a traditional vocals over cymbals and snare finish, a genre standard.

Steady as she goes, right? Darkest Hour’s worked with these materials for twenty years. The end result should be stale. It should feel unremarkable and rote.

Instead? It feels awesome. It puts a spring in my step and an extra ounce of force or two in my fists. Knife In The Safe Room feels rejuvenating. When John Henry yells what I think is “vivisected flesh / disconnected souls” over that breakdown, I feel like I can punch through a wall. 

I don't know what the difference is this time around. Maybe it's the fellow aficiaondo engineering/producing, Kurt Ballou. Maybe Mr. Orbin's drumming made the difference. Maybe it's the times. Along with the rest of the record (titled Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora), Darkest Hour recorded Knife In The Safe Room in September 2016. Maybe the impending Trump administration provided that je ne seis quoi.

Whatever the reason, Knife In The Safe Room is my favorite song Darkest Hour’s ever recorded, 21 years into their career. For my money, and it’s $1.11 on bandcamp, it might also be their best.