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Interview

Darkest Hour Guitarist Mike Schleibaum Discusses Twenty Fifth Anniversary, Progress On New Album And Crowdfunding

Metalcore is a genre which has had something of an image problem among the "true" metal elitists over the years. Frankly, it can be hard to define at times, so it's easier to lump some bands in with the style when they either never played it or moved on to something else. But there's always been bands in any genre which have shined bright and earned praise from even the harshest critics of a style. One such band which has received this status is Washington D.C.'s own, Darkest Hour.

During the band's beefy European tour, I was lucky enough to catch up with guitarist Mike Schleibaum, along with Fallujah (see interview here) and Une Misere, to discuss the trek, as well as work on a new album, their twenty fifth anniversary and what was learned from growing up in the D.C. hardcore scene. You can watch the interview in full below.

Diamond Oz: Straight into it, right now you're on tour with Fallujah and Une Misere. How did this combination come about?

Mike Schleibaum: Right now we are on tour with Fallujah, Une Misere, Bloodlet and Lowest Creature. Lowest Creature is badass, they're from Sweden and they're fucking awesome. They were... not our pick or anything but they were the young band that, we just loved their vibe and after seeing them live I'm so excited about it. Then the second band is Une Misere, they're from Iceland and they put on an incredible show from the second minute and being from Iceland, you've gotta be really good to rise out of there.

So you've got a more old school new band and a more new school new band, then you have a very special band called Bloodlet, who are a band that has songs that are older than Darkest Hour and they're a band that influenced Darkest Hour. We sort of trudged them up from the Florida swamp and brought them out here just to remind everybody we come from all places. Old, hardcore, metalcore version one, whatever you want to call it. Then lastly is Fallujah who are there to round it all out because they're like insanely good musicians. Great, progressive death metal. Smart, forward thinking, good shit. So that kind of rounds out an awesome tour package and it's a long night but we've felt a lot of energy from people at the end so I think it's a good party in general.

Oz: Good. Obviously you're still promoting your latest album, "Godless Prophets and the Migrant Flora," which has now been out for just under three years...

Mike: If you have to live in the like 90s, band-tour record philosophy then technically we're on the tour cycle for "Godless Prophets..." but what we kind of did was, we made up our own tour cycle, which is that, we're twenty five. Instead of giving you another album and now making it harder to play songs from albums that you've fallen in love, how about if we just do a tour where we play a bunch of stuff that we've never played? We look at your feedback and you listen to your audience and it's really been exciting and fun to play these new songs.

It's a lot of fun for us so this is kind of a made up tour cycle of stuff you never get to hear and we're gonna be slamming you with the new album but we've already got nine (albums) and a Darkest Hour set can consist of almost fourteen songs and at that point it's almost irresponsible to push John (Henry, vocalist) because he's gotta sing the next night and the next night and I hate to peg it on him because the drums are very tiring too. The three of us... Fuck us, we can be up there forever but still, it's hard and you've gotta pace yourself so you end up just skipping over a lot of songs and that's kind of where we're at. So this is the twenty fifth anniversary tour cycle, as we work on album ten.

Oz: It's quite a different way of celebrating a twenty fifth anniversary because it's also the twentieth anniversary of "The Mark Of The Judas," so the normal thing would be to play that album in full or to play a best of.

Mike: We did an album in full with "Undoing Ruin," we did that tour. We were afraid to do "The Mark Of The Judas" tour because we thought, "Maybe that's a little too niche," but we are playing the song, "The Mark Of The Judas," which we never played and we are celebrating with a bunch of other crazy, only for our fans, internet releases through Patreon, so we've got some cool stuff for people who want to celebrate our anniversary with things. But this tour is like, we love the back catalogue too and we've found a way to really listen to what people are saying outside of social media, because social media's fucked. It's impossible to cut through that white noise but having been using our Patreon website and working on digging in to connect with people on those various websites, we've got an idea of the stuff that we've skipped over and we're hoping to bring people who are on the internet back to the shows too and just re-energise people. The band plays better than ever and sounds better than ever so we think we can win you over if we can get you in the room.

Oz: You mentioned working on a new album. Would that be expected this year or next year?

Mike: Here's the thing: We're gonna do this at our own pace. So I could tell it'll be later this year but it might be the beginning of next year because we might decide to just dig in and keep doing this thing and keep giving people cool little treats on the Patreon website and slowly we build up to it. It's album ten. We have to ask ourselves why and what do we have to say? We know internally what our direction is and we're pushing there but I don't think there's any rush, other than the urgency to make something amazing. There's no rush to get it to people, because what we found is that there's plenty of songs that we've skipped over that people love and right now that's what we're celebrating, while we take the time to make hopefully our best album ever.

Oz: Yeah and Patreon gives you a bit more freedom rather than having a label breathe down your neck...

Mike: Well we are using a label. This isn't separate. That's just like a fan club that people can pay to be a part of and you'd say, "Well why would you pay for anything? It's all on the internet" but Facebook, Instagram, Twitter... All these things have a lot of limitations and this little fan club thing, which I don't even want to belittle it like that because it's really awesome, we like it, but this monthly subscription thing we're doing has nothing to do with the new stuff. It's more old trinkets of physical and digital and songs that you might not have heard and more where you can dig into the history of Darkest Hour without being advertised to, without having to look at a million links, so it's all in one place catalogued.

Meanwhile, we want to attack the world with a traditional album release at the same time and everybody on our monthly subscription service, they want that too because they are our biggest supporters in a way. They're happy to support the band monthly and then help us take that album and sell it to the world. They don't feel slighted, they're our team mates and that's kind of circular with the way the band started in the DIY, punk/hardcore world where we've kind of learned to just rely on people that love the band and as long as we're constantly giving them what they accept as something they love, we have a reciprocal process as something that works for everyone.

Oz: I was actually going to ask you about your hardcore background because obviously DC's quite famous for its hardcore scene back in the day with bands like Bad Brains...

Mike: Well, every band's from a city. Darkest Hour is from the greater Washington metropolitan area. If you look at rock and heavy metal, you don't have a lot of heroes and the heroes of your cities are important because they set the tone of what the scene... Even if it's hip hop or country music, the legends of your city, like Prince in Minneapolis, helped set the tone for extremely amazing musicians, great live shows, Minneapolis had him as their king. Well in DC, our rulers was Fugazi and we got to grow up seeing them play but we also got to grow up hearing them talk about how they were doing their business, how they were controlling everything and we watched as the world respected them, we saw it could be done right here.

Not only that but we were able to actually meet the people in the band and go to Dischord to see your favourite punk icon Ian MacKaye put a record in a box and shipping it. There's no shame in hard work. So for us, we internalised that but then we also fell in love with heavy metal. We're just as much Minor Threat as we are Van Halen. We went down the rock and roll road, we gambled it all, we found out some things and learned some things, gained some things but we always had the base of knowing that you can do a band with only the five people in the band in charge and doing all the work and be OK. That's a powerful thing to have when you start and to carry it through the pitfalls of being in a band.

Oz: Very interesting.

Mike: I mean, just to be able to literally see Fugazi for free at Fort Reno and have there be thousands of people and just have them not give a shit about selling a shirt. Not even give a shit about the door, that's amazing. To not even think, "Let's merchandise the fuck out of this" and also, "We're not gonna play traditional clubs. We're not gonna just be a rock band. We're gonna play VFW halls, we're gonna play basketball gyms, we're gonna play punk art spaces." Music doesn't have to exist where bars exist. That's the other thing we learned too. We did our first tours in VFW halls and youth centres, now we're too old for that shit and we like to put on a Kiss rock show but knowing that a great show can happen without all this hoopla is kind of powerful because it lets you know what's important at the show that you're at.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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