I missed chatting with Alex Agnew, the vocalist of Belgian dark groove rock outfit Diablo Blvd. due to illness recently. I can assure the reader I was disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to ask the raft of questions I had prepared.
Zero Hour is one thoroughly enjoyable album that should appeal to a wide variety of metal and rock fans. The accompanying press kit to the copy of the album I received says that the band takes their “…inspiration from classic metal acts like Type O Negative, Metallica, Danzig and Black Sabbath and eighties new wave bands like Killing Joke, Sisters of Mercy and Gang of Four.”
The Metallica reference is almost ubiquitous if you want to look at almost all metal and some hard rock post-1995 (although I’d suggest there is far more White Zombie and Rammstein than Metallica in Diablo Blvd.’s sound), so the comparison that stood out for me was Killing Joke and Gang of Four.
I suspect readers will have yet to discover the excellence that is contained in many Killing Joke and Gang of Four recordings. Between them are bands responsible for influencing a vast array of modern music. It is hard to imagine Fear Factory’s mid-90s warp drive riffage (and all the bands that followed suit) without Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman and Youth first releasing the superior Pandemonium in 1994, likewise Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys and Interpol have indeed studied the template Gang of Four produced on the brilliant, Entertainment! (’79) and albums beyond.
Across the album, the bass sits relatively high in the mix. However, the tone could have been a little more ‘Fender Precision Bass’, which would have highlighted the juxtaposition of the many excellent basslines against some deceptively straightforward guitar work (there’s your Gang of Four comparison). Agnew’s vocal is complimented by some reverb effects that allow his vocal to soar over some familiar chug-chug riffs (this is the Pandemonium comparison)
The first cut, “Animal”, is an excellent opener with a solid tribal beat through the verse. The second, “Sing from the Gallows”, starts with a pentatonic riff groove that builds to a danceable chorus. The fourth, “God in the Machine”, will work great in the live setting due to the melodic refrain through the verse accompanying the angular guitar lead. My favourite album cut is the closer, “Summer has Gone”, as this cut has a great bass guitar melody underpinning the verse that bursts into a chorus using a chord progression that gradually slides up the fretboard.
Zero Hour isn’t overly original or ground-breaking, but what it is and where it works is through an entertaining collection of some tried and tested ideas used by many of the greatest rock and metal bands, spiced with some electronic elements and pieced together by individuals who get how to put together songs.
In 2017 it was neigh impossible to be completely original, so I compliment Diablo Blvd. for choosing their influences wisely and producing listenable hard rock with enough variety to keep fans of most hard rock and metal engaged.