Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: Dark Hound, "Dawning"

When I think of Nashville these days, my first thought is usually nausea-inducing, skinny-jean wearing, faux-country boys rapping about pickup trucks and dirt roads. But even if I listed the positives of Nashville music – and there still are a few – I highly doubt that a blend of thrash, progressive and early-‘90s hard rock would appear anywhere on that list. But here I sit, listening to Dark Hound’s latest album Dawning, and enjoying the hell out of it.

Listening to this record, I hear shades of some favorites: early Saigon Kick, Lillian Axe’s more progressive work, Testament, perhaps a little Dream Theater here and there. But Dark Hound blends it all together into a sound that’s completely their own and doesn’t really fit into any of the current trends or sub-genres in the metal world.

The album caught my attention right out of the gate with opener “The Ashes of Your Worth.” It’s no secret that I consider Saigon Kick an incredibly underrated band, and ET Brown’s vocal melody on this tune comes straight out of their playbook. I was immediately grooving to the song, but then he puts his own spin on the formula with some snarlier bits, while the rest of the band drives it home with a heavy feel.

My general rule of thumb when listening to promos is to give each track a cursory listen to see if I’m interested, then go back for a deeper dive. “The Ashes of Your Worth” got several full listens before I moved on to the rest of the album.

“Guilt Tripper” follows that with a straight thrash sound, but then the chorus drops into more melodic territory before progging out a little bit after the second chorus. Two songs in, and I already know I’ve got a contender.

“Carnival of Youth” delivers some huge riffing right off the top from guitarists Evan Hensley and Preston Walls; that’s topped with another absolutely infectious vocal from Brown. The guy is a master at delivering mesmerizing melodies that are hummable after one listen. The breakdown on the song reminds me a bit of classic Megadeth, with Brown snarling over a heavy riff, and then we’re back to that huge melody.

The guitars take center stage again as we open “The Answer,” with a nice dual-guitar lead giving way to a Mastodon-ish riff underlaid with bludgeoning drum work from Josh Brown. It’s not as instantly catchy as the first three tracks, but grows on you more and more with each listen.

Perhaps my favorite track on the record, though, is “Thrown to the Wolves.” It’s one of the darkest and heaviest songs on Dark Hound’s Dawning, but still finds some time for great melodic interludes. It’s also probably Brown’s strongest vocal performance on the record. “Thrown to the Wolves” is just a perfect amalgamation of what the band does.

I also have a soft spot for the album-closing “Here Lies the Truth,” which goes from a Metallica-influenced opening riff to a verse melody that reminds me of a mid-’90s Lillian Axe tune, maybe something off Psychoschizophrenia. The subject matter also hits home for me as a recovering former journalist, as it tackles the topic of the information-overloaded world today that allows people to put themselves in a bubble where everything they read fits their own personal world view. It’s a timely topic, and a damned good song.

The mix doesn’t always work. “Balancing Act,” in particular, fails to, well, balance out. There’s a nice grinding chorus in there, but the bash-you-over-the-head verses just don’t quite work for me. Those moments, however, are very few and far between. They’re also more than made up for by the Annihilator-influenced goodness of “Thrashgasm,” the angular prog flavor of “Stripped Away” or the chunky, driving pure metal of “Crisis of Hope.”

I walked away from Dawning wondering how I possibly missed Dark Hound’s first two records, an oversight that I intend to correct immediately. They blend the best elements of so many things that I love in metal into a very tasty treat – thrash intensity, big hard rock melodies and hooks, and just a little dash of weirdness.

For anyone who thinks of Nashville as the home of pop-country B.S., Dark Hound proves that there’s still some good music coming out of the town once you get off the main drag.


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