DS Exclusive: Darkest Hour guitarist Mike Schleibaum on the band’s recent “Undoing Ruin” anniversary tour

Earlier this summer metal core greats Darkest Hour revisited their breakout album, Undoing Ruin, by playing it in full for audiences across the US of A. The show was nothing short of spectacular. The guitars were heavy, the vibe was huge and the audience was fully engaged. Check out some awesome live videos from the evening, courtesy of Yahoo! Screen.

Undoing Ruin has aged quite well in the last ten years and worked perfectly as a front-to-back live effort. After the last note of the album was played, the band forged on with a mini-set spanning most of their back catalogue. Check out the full set list here.

Guitarist Mike Schleibaum sat down with Dying Scene writer Jason Epstein before their New York City gig to discuss special anniversary tours, the band’s self-titled album, and their progression as songwriters.

You can check out the full interview below.

Dying Scene (Jason Epstein): In the 10 years since Undoing Ruin, how do you feel you’ve changed as a band?

That’s a huge question. I’m trying to think about how I can answer that in a relatively reasonable fashion. Well, the first thing is that Undoing Ruin was the first time anyone in this band addressed the issue of tempo. I know it sounds weird to go there but we’d never done an album to a click track and never done that kind of clean production and <producer> Devin <Townsend> was kind of a big influence on that so this brought in a whole new thing to light about how we were playing the music. But we weren’t playing it how we were hearing it on the albums, so since that album we’ve sort of been chasing actually playing the albums the way that they are live. If you listen to Deliver Us, it’s completely quantized to a click so it’s always on time. But if you watch that band from that era we didn’t really embrace any of the tech that was happening so it was kind of really rough and like a punk band, live. But on the album it was a completely different experience you know? <Guy rips a fart in the background>

How am I going to transcribe that?

Yeah you can’t. And then you know throughout the years through some lineup changes and our experiences with other producers we’ve learned to inject that sort of thinking in how we play – and now fast forward to where we are today: Travis will play on the drums exactly pretty much with 98% accuracy the album completely how it is. And the guitar is the same way; we used some tracks here and there. We’re really searching for, how do we make it sound like it’s played on the album, live. And I think it took from then to now to get to where we could play Undoing Ruin the way we’re gonna do it now. And we’ve already done the European version of the tour so we know sort of how everything goes.

Worked the kinks out.

Yeah. So I can say without a doubt that we can now play the album the way that it was meant to be when we originally recorded it. But it did take us a long time to catch up to our abilities where we creatively went. We sort of imagined a lot farther than our abilities at that time.

And how about the songwriting process?

Well, the computer is now here. We were demoing stuff sort of back then, like I have demos of Undoing Ruin and Deliver Us in my basement and shit but now everybody in the band understands digital recording and these guitar programs we’re using to trade riffs. So the way that you remember an idea, store an idea, trade an idea has completely changed. It used to be you had to remember it; show up to band practice; show someone in the band; they had to remember it…it was a whole process. So that’s changed immensely. Our grasp of technology and how it’s involved in the way that we write now too. A lot of times when we jam a new song we’ll have already heard demos and our drummer has already charted out what he’s gonna play which is a different experience than just experimenting in the room. But I think we’re kind of moving toward a blend of tying both also. So it’s always ever changing.

Your self-titled album showcases a new side to the music. Can you tell me about how you injected new influences into the songwriting process? Was it the introduction of new members?

Yeah, absolutely. We sort of try to write like a collective unit but that’s hard to do in heavy metal when you have just one guy write it and demo and everyone learn it. So it took a really long time and a lot of revisions of songs and shit to let new people have new ideas. So let some of the weird rhythmic ideas come in and to let some of the beautiful mistakes happen. It took the two years that it took. It was an organic process. It was over and over and over again. It wasn’t just we wrote the song the way they are and everybody just injected themselves in. It took some time for Aaron Deal to battle some influence in as bass player and for Travis to get some of his new vision in there. It took some convincing of band members for sure.

How do you feel about the finished product since it’s now been about a year since its release?

The honest answer is that I feel like we were really ambitious that we were gonna make a new sound and do anything we want and break the mold. But for somebody who has dedicated almost 20 years of his life to thrash metal to just take a turn from that and say now it’s just heavy metal and to change that was a hard thing to give up. To give up part of your identity and make this all-encompassing heavy metal album…and I think that at the time we were very driven to break the mold completely which we did and we had to be that way. But now in retrospect I was never embarrassed of the mold – I always liked what we were about before we tried to break it open. So now I feel more comfortable artistically with maybe being more in the middle somehow.

Could be your direction of the next album.

Maybe, I mean cuz you always are once you’re done you go, Ah fuck shoulda done this. But I think you’re always thinking ahead when you’re finishing an album. You know, we pushed the limits of a lot of things. Like, there’s poppy songs, there’s all sort of weird things we never tried before. And we just had to do that this many albums in. But also doing a tour like this and backing away from the mega tours that we’ve been doing like Machine Head and the Mayhem thing…you just kind of get to be like what the fuck let’s go back to where we were, who we were and let’s dial in some of what we have now and keep chasing whatever that sound is on every album. But the thing that I like about the album is that it is a self-titled that late in the game but it is totally different in a lot of ways and you have to be trying that. I always like to dig in the article, but I personally think the album should’ve been called the first line of the album and not the self-titled. I think the album should’ve been called “For Every Dead God Who Worships the Living.” But certain higher-ups didn’t like how poetic that was.

That’s pretty metal.

Yeah, and so it ended up being self-titled. And there were other ideas to the name the album; a bunch of other things that would’ve given it a unique identity. But this one is special now. It stamps everything to this time. The band is completely different live now that the members have changed up a little bit. And I think that’s worth documenting.

So another question about past and future: In 2010 you did a special 15-year anniversary tour. Now you’re doing a 10-year Undoing Ruin anniversary tour. Can you imagine what your next special showcase tour will be five years down the line, ten years down the line?

<It’s almost like> can we just not do this anymore thing? I don’t like this whole kind of <tour>. But it’s cool cuz you’re reaching out to some of the older dudes and people that for some reason another heavy metal record is never gonna touch their lives the way that one did. And it’s fun to go down that road and breathe new life into the songs and play them bad ass. But I don’t know. It’s a little embarrassing that we did a 15-year anniversary tour and 20-year anniversary tour but to us this was more like we made it to two decade, but also celebrating that Undoing Ruin is 10 years old. And that’s a badass album. And we have badass albums…we can play Deliver Us all the way through. We could do Sadist Nation. We could do Mark of the Judas. I mean these are all cool albums that have deep cuts that people really like that never got played because they’re not going to get played in a traditional set. So it’s cool to at least write music that matters like that in album form.

How does the music you write and play differ from your favorite type of music to listen to day to day?

I think at some point everybody gets out of listening to death metal if that’s all they’re listening to. And nobody here is even doing that. Everyone listens to all sorts of fucked up crazy shit. You couldn’t peg one thing in here. If you’re looking for inspiration, you’re desperate for inspiration you’re fucking digging trenches looking for it cuz there’s so much bullshit and finding it is impossible so you have to listen to every fucking thing you can to try to glean that you know.

And your music wouldn’t be the same if you were just listening to metal.

You’ve gotta listen to how chords change in other music and how things make you feel moods and shit like that. Obviously if you’ve gotta bring an innovative into this little gene pool you’ve gotta get it somewhere. And the best way to do that in music is copy someone else and so the only way to do that is to look around for what there is. So you’ve gotta listen to everything. And that’s what everyone does. Not everyone agrees on what they like either but as long as you agree on what the musical direction the output is supposed to go you can get there together.

Some Darkest Hour b-sides are so good, and a lot of fans think they’re as good if not better than some songs on the album. So walk me through this; how do you determine when a song won’t be on an album. Is it you, is it the record label, is it a group discussion?

I can tell you every single song and if you tell me the song I mean there’s every sordid fuckin little tale. It’s everything from it’s John Henry’s least favorite song to it’s the record label’s least favorite song. There’s always something that needs to be bonus content somewhere and this band doesn’t really write a lot of extra material so we didn’t have a lot to choose from so some things that should’ve been on the album got cut down a song or two so later they could be bonus material. There is no bonus material on Undoing Ruin. We recorded nothing extra. There was nothing ever extra. And then on Deliver Us the song “Closing on the Day,” that was John’s least favorite song on the album and then you know what are you gonna do. Everyone liked all of the songs and we had to pick one to cut so what the fuck, you know? And I think in retrospect that was the best one to cut. But other people like that song. There’s a lot of things you think you take into context when you’re formatting the album and so I think I remember that song had a lot of double bass and we needed to break that up. And for this album I really don’t think that song “Surrealist “should have been a b-side. That song’s fucking badass. That should’ve been on the album. But “Lunar Divide” is definitely a b-side.

Why should “Surrealist” and not “Lunar Divide” have been on the album?

At the time I felt there was enough progressive stuff that we needed to balance it. But whatever it’s not on the album so it doesn’t fuckin matter.

Are you the kind of guy who’ll go back and listen to an old record you made and be like yeah we did that right I’m happy with that or are you the type who goes back and says, Oh man I wish we did that differently or is it a lot in the middle. Can you give an example?

<Examples are> Fuck that was awesome. Fuck what were we thinking? Fuck man we really knew what we were doing. Fuck that was terrible. Fuck I don’t know maybe that was alright. Oh you know what…it was awesome because it is fucked up. So it takes us a long time to get to the point that…the things that are fucked up are the things that end up giving it whatever color. Sadist Nation is fucked up: it’s not to a click; everything is rushed; the guitars aren’t tight; it’s a mess. That’s the vibe of it. Undoing Ruin is completely layered to death, hundreds of guitars at times to the point where they’re almost like keyboards at times and people are like, How’d you get that fucking sound, you know? So it’s just those mistakes even though they’re not really mistakes. That’s what becomes the color of the album.

Yep. It gives it character.

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