mike schleibaum darkest hourThe second-to-last night of Summer Slaughter — the first of two nights at NYC’s Irving Plaza — was a fucking party. Axl and Vince arrived before doors opened to interview Darkest Hour mastermind Mike Schleibaum and were summarily handed beers. “New York City . . . oh god. Suffocation, and also sharing your dressing room [with Suffocation]. . . there’s going to be a lot of drinking. Beer is going to be hard to get. We should really start right after this interview!” mused Schleibaum before handing us a couple of Bud Lights to get things started off right. “It’s just a Bud Light, my friends,” he responded after we thanked him for the hospitality; true, but somehow “just a Bud Light” turned into “just a bottle of Jack Daniels” being completely polished off in the DH / Suffocation dressing room shortly thereafter. “The thing is – it’s going to get all drank by the time Blackguard’s finished,” prophecized Schleibaum. And so it went. The men of DH like their Jack (and their weed) and the endless stream of Suffocation ladies — 40-something Lawngisland bleach blondes with giant, fake tits — that paraded through the room all night provided much amusement for our chemically altered brains.

But before all of the shenanigans went down we sat with Mr. Schleibaum and chatted about the Summer Slaughter tour, the band’s new album The Eternal Return, the end of Darkest Hour’s deal with Victory Records and what that means for the band, the departure of guitarist Kris Norris and subsequent replacement with ex-At All Cost axeman Mike “Lonestar” Carrigan, working with producer Devin Townsend in the past, and a slew of other topics. Our chat, after the jump.

So you’re pretty much wrapping up the tour now?

Today is the second to last day. I’m not going to lie, part of me is excited to play New York City 2 nights in a row, but the other part of me is like, “oh, it’s only 4 hours from D.C. and I only have 4 more weeks before we go again. I just want to go home and sleep in bed, watch T.V., and just veg out.”

See the wife? You’re a married man, right?

Yeah. I’m married. See my wife, see my cats as were featured in Revolver. They need a lot of attention. Sometimes you just need a break. We did 6 weeks of Thrash and Burn in Europe which is 10 bands every fucking night too. So for the last 15 weeks straight, I don’t even know if that’s right. Okay 6 weeks here . . . yeah for the last 15 or 16 weeks straight we’ve been touring with 15 or 10 bands. It’ll be nice to get back to 3 or 4 band packages for each show where people are, like, paying attention. Not that they’re not paying attention, but you just can’t pay attention. With 4 bands you just soak it in, but these are events that are all day.

Do you guys play a shorter set because of how many are on the bill?

We do. Everybody plays like half an hour sets except for Necrophagist and Ensiferum who play a bit longer. I also believe that Suffocation and us (in some places) got longer sets. It just really depends on how many locals there are, and what time it needs to be over. We headlined the Thrash and Burn Tour in the U.S. last summer, which is kind of a sister idea of this. It’s fucking hard man. Being the headliner is hard, running a show like this is hard, but it does get pulled off. The positive side of this is Frank from Suffocation calls this thing the “death metal stimulus package”. It’s funny because it is a lot of fucking bands, and these are bands that are going to tour all year. So it’s kind of like you get to see a lot of sick bands. You would never see Darkest Hour and Origin, unfortunately, together until this tour, but it’s fucking sick. Darkest Hour hasn’t toured with Dying Fetus since 1999, so it was sick to do it with them again. They’re a different type of band now. We never would have played with Necrophagist. Do you know what I mean? Then you throw in these other bands: After the Burial, Winds of Plague, Born of Osiris, Blackguard thrown in there and Decrepit Birth so we got all these mixed up things so it is kind of a cool show. If you like metal, there’s got to be a couple of things you like. I’m sure if you like metal, there will be a ton of shit you hate.

Mike Schleibaum - Darkest HourDo you find that mix of different kinds of bands helps you guys out in that you’re exposing new people to your music or do you think it works against you?

I find that it’s hard because Darkest Hour is a metal band that some metal heads except and other metal heads don’t [think are metal] for some reason. This tour, everyone that has come to the show has been rocked and we all have a great time. There is a stigma, I think, when people see the band or whatever because we don’t get lumped in with Suffocation as much as we do with other bands that are not necessarily classically metal. In the end, it’s all just made up. All of this is just made up. If you just jam with a beer and your buddies, whatever you need to do to jam and just kick it, and if you like aggressive heavy music, you might get it. If you have to rely on a lot of labels, this might be a little over your head, unfortunately. I think we came to the point where we look at how much all these genres mix and all this music mixes, I would hope that we’ve come to the point where people can understand that a death metal band can grow out of a punk rock band and it’s all kind of really related in the same way.

I don’t think a lot of people don’t understand that unfortunately.

But the people that do, it makes it more special for them. It makes it realer because nobody wants to be making coloring books. It’s not for a 14 year old. It’s for people who truly get metal. Those who get older and get metal, it gets fucking crazy because you’re not a kid anymore. We’ve also been lucky enough to have super young fans. We can tour with young kind of Myspace based bands and do well, and we can tour with death metal bands and be respected. So that’s a nice thing. The only sad thing is you never feel like you really ever find a home because you always sort of fit in and sort of don’t fit in. It’s not really trendy to play Swedish influenced death metal right now. A couple of years ago it was all the rage, now I don’t really know what the type of music is called, and it’s just not this. When the opening bands that used to open for Darkest Hour, the local openers in every town, they sort of sounded like that. Now it’s kind of different sounding. Then you end up being on a tour with 10 different bands thinking “we’re the only band that really sounds like this”. If you can just put your blinders on and forget we have a bulldog on the back of the record.


You know what I mean? I think that Victory Records is helpful, but in the metal world it is sometimes stigmatizing.


You guys know exactly what I’m saying.

Oh yes.

So the fact that you know what I’m saying proves that this stigma exists. As any band will do, you just prove yourself by touring. We’ll tour with the most extreme bands ever, and we’ve toured with Cartel. What the fuck? You know what I’m saying?

You guys definitely haven’t been lumped into the whole quote/unquote Victory thing at all really.

I don’t know. I don’t even know if that all really even exists. I mean come on. Everything is just so convoluted now with the way that record labels and music are because of this amazing thing that we’re talking over called the internet. It’s all shifted, and I think the key thing that is important in the end is the tunes because the way technology and information changes now, in 10 or 15 years we can only hope that out of all these bands that are touring, the good ones get remembered. If they don’t, then we all fucked up.

darkest_eternalSpeaking of tunes, you have a new record, The Eternal Return. How do you feel about the tunes on this new record?

I feel really strongly about it. It’s kind of a little tortured record because it kind of comes at the end of a long career on Victory. It’s kind of the end of the contract. This record kind of comes at a really hard time for the band. The way that bands do bands now has changed so much from when we started being a band. We can go on tour now and not even bring CDs, and it just doesn’t matter. People just want to buy t-shirts. Sometimes it seems that there are so many t-shirts that people don’t even want to buy those anymore. You’re just trying to live off of whatever door income comes in then. I guess the interesting thing of being a musician has changed so much since we were attempting to do it in 1995 to how we are attempting to do it in 2009, that it’s interesting to have traveled as a band the whole way because you don’t get the shock attack of being, “hey this is a new fucking band”. We just get to go, “yeah, we heard of that band before”. You stick with it long enough, you are kind of polarized by the fact that you are so old that people feel like it’s an old story. The band has grown and changed so much to get to the point that we get these songs. To me, they’re my favorite songs that we’ve done. I’m sure that when the Darkest Hour fans hear them and have a different place and they sit wherever they want them to. For me, they’re my favorite. I guess I could go into more detail, but what else needs to be said? People will make up their own minds.

I’m sure you’re sick of talking about this, but this is your first album without Kris. Did you find that the songwriting process was different or the recording process was different?

Yeah. Okay, check it out. The band has 4 other different 2nd guitar players. Kris is the only guy that was before Mike Garrity. No wait, let’s see. Hold on, I got to count: Garrity, Fred, Lonestar, Kris. Yeah. So we’ve had 4 total, but Kris was the first dude that came into the scenario that brought anything else musically to the table. Before it was kind of like, “oh, there is one songwriter (me) and the other guys all collab and then we change it all around and what you get is a song”. Then Kris came in and it was like another guy had a say in it, but we also were growing at the same time.

What happened is that we all hit a brick wall named Devin Townsend on Undoing Ruin, and I think that’s why it’s a really good record because Kris didn’t really try to assert himself on Sadist Nation for whatever reason. Then on Undoing Ruin, we were willing to let him and at the same time here came the first producer in a long time who could get everybody’s attention and have some sort of impact on the overall sound. McTernan had done the first two, but it had gotten to the point with him that we had gotten so metal we were like “oh, we want to go to Sweden”. So we changed it all up there. Then the Swedes were kind of into it and did a pretty good job with the record, but you can listen to Sadist Nation and it’s not as drastic of a sonic change as Undoing Ruin. We hit the Devin Townsend brick wall when the sound of Darkest Hour really advanced. To me, this record is now another one of those things, but it just depends on how you see it as a fan. You know what I mean? If we had made the exact same record with Kris, I just wonder how people would perceive it because in reality and in Darkest Hour, the band has been around for so long and done so many things that the only way old men can feel that they are a part of something is if you allow them to have a piece of themselves in the music. So if I was to walk in there and say, “hey I just wrote this sick Darkest Hour song on the guitar. I even demoed it on ProTools. Bam! It’s awesome.” Sure, you can have a band that did that, but the whole trick with Darkest Hour was to let everyone have a say, twist it around and have 5 dudes feel good about it in the end.

That’s what we did in the Kris era, and that’s what we did in the Mike era, and it’s the same only that you have one different factor. The different factor changes it, but the other thing that people don’t realize sometimes is that there is a huge elephant that is standing right there – we also decided not to do the record with Devin, we also decided to change a whole bunch of other things about what we were going for. We weren’t going for the same thing as Deliver Us, so that has more of an impact, I think even though it sounds crazy to say, than Kris. Kris definitely brought the idea of really including the neoclassical guitar shredding thing into the framework of Darkest Hour, but everything that is on any Darkest Hour record has been argued and scrutinized about by every fucking dude in the band so many times that it would make you want to throw up and probably make you feel that it is unhealthy because it probably is. That’s the type of guy everybody is. That’s the type of guy Kris is too and that’s why he fit in.

Mike_Schleibaum_Barcelona_2009So Lonestar wasn’t just like the new guy standing in the corner taking orders?

No. I think the thing is, the reason that we liked Lonestar in the beginning is that we could have gone out and been like, “hey, it’s not working out with Kris, let’s just fucking bring it on. Let’s have a guitar shred-a-thon, put this shit on Youtube and let’s go!” We just wanted a guy that fit in because in the end, Darkest Hour is a band, there’s guitar shredding, but dude we hope that you feel more from the overall impact of the music than care about solos. Solos are there to emphasize a song, work a little bit good live, give me and Lonestar a chance to fuck off and have boners. Really in reality, if you don’t like the song and the solo sections are fucking retarded, they don’t matter. It’s just numbers.

You said that you were going a different direction with this than Deliver Us and that whole thing, and you deliberately didn’t go back to Devin for that reason I assume.

Well it’s not that if you went back to Devin you would be repeating the same thing. I always hate the way I try to frame it because Devin is fucking awesome. It’s like why would you want to walk away from being able to do any kind of musical collaboration with a guy that good, but the thing is you just want to try something different. When you do something twice in a row and you want a different result, you’ve got to just try everything. Everything needs to be different, but at the same time, we wanted to kind of find a way to make is sound a little bit more punk and make the songs have impact. We were like “who could we find to do that?” My friend Brian is the best person in the world that I have ever seen do that. Personally as far as taking a band song and figuring out where it could be better and making it better in a way that not just the world likes, but the 5 fucking idiots. I’m telling you, bands are fucking stupid man. I have the unlucky fortune of recording bands myself. When we all get into a room, we act insane. When you can make 5 insane guys who already have enough opinions about shit feel better because you showed them something that they maybe didn’t see wasn’t working, and it changed something around and was better, dude that’s magic. Making other musicians happy is way harder than making people who buy the records happy, I think. Making an artist happy with his own work is one of the fucking hardest things to do in the world. So we wanted something different. Dev is the man, and I definitely feel like we owe so much of the sound to Devin Townsend, but I think he will also appreciate where we took it because we were trying to get in essence a fucked up, fast, heavy thrash record but with the heart of punk. You know what I mean? It’s not supposed to be totally metal, but it is because it’s also just so aggressive and that makes it metal. Or maybe I’m insane.


Do you think that Brian was successful in getting that sound with you guys?

I think so. To me it sounds like a band. I think some of the records are really orchestrated, and they are greatly due to what we wanted to do at the time, but this one has a little more Pantera. Not in a Southern, Lamb of God way, but in a Pantera different kind of way, just like making the Darkest Hour sound maybe a little more classically metal. If you listen to it, there are a couple of guitar tracks, a bass, and the fucking drums are tight, and it’s like a classic metal collab. It doesn’t have as much orchestration as we did in the past. I think that makes it come across a little more how it does now. I feel like if you come to a show and see us play the new songs, it’ll make sense to you. “Oh shit, I just felt that right here”.

Anything else you want to share with the Metalsucks world of idiots?

I’ve always shared my opinions many times on underrated bands of the metal genre. The thing that I like about Metalsucks is that there are so many times… as an artist who tries to get actual feedback about something that you did, and if you ever use this thing called the internet to do it, you’ll go fucking insane. A lot of artists have great perspective: man, Doc and Dallas, the God Forbid guys, they’ll fucking run it all up on the internet man. Every time I see it I’ve got to read it. The thing is, it’s so hard to get people who seem to have a community of readers that actually care and aren’t reading to post some bullshit and then go on to do it on every site. People who actually like metal seem to read this site, and I think that’s cool.

mike schleibaum darkest hourThank you.

I just want to send a shout out to anybody who actually wrote anything constructive ever in a post, or to the other people who actually write positive stuff. Because it really boils down to what type of person are you – the type of person that logs on the internet and goes, “oh, fuck these guys” or the type of person who goes, “oh, yeah, that’s brutal or whatever. I got my own thing here on my Youtube.” It’s just weird. It’s hard to get real feedback, and I feel that the people who read this site give a shit for real.

Thank you. You’ll be happy to know that your Iron Maiden record [Brave New World] actually was chosen #22 or 23 of our 21 best albums of the 21st century poll.

Oh, so maybe it isn’t underrated! Maybe it’s not yet. I’ll put this out there: Brave New World. How many people that are really jamming Iron Maiden are really jamming this record?

We love that record.

It’s great, and you know what? I love almost all Maiden records except for this AOL one they put out. It was on Sanctuary.

AOL one?

I have no idea. It was in this really weird era. I don’t know. I saw it one time. It was on Sanctuary Records. I saw it and was like “whoa”. It came with an AOL thing in it and stuff. I don’t think Mr. Bruce was in any way associated with it. Because when Mr. Bruce Dickinson is involved in any Iron Maiden record, it’s awesome. Not that I’m saying anything about the early years, which were bad ass.

Yeah man, I guess we’ll just party!

– VN & AR

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