Photo by Brian David Braun
Hailing from four different countries (Austria, Germany, Scotland, and the US ), electro-rock quintet Darkhaus was co-founded by multi-platinum artist Rupert Keplinger – also a member of industrial unit Eisbrecher – to unite a wide variety of electronic music styles on a musical journey they describe as “dark and emotional.” He's joined by Gary Meskil and Marshall Stephens of the legendary New York hardcore unit Pro-Pain, along with drummer Paul Keller and lead vocalist Kenny Hanlon, and the result is an intense but well-balanced fusion of '80s-style gothic rock and modern pop & metal. Their debut album My Only Shelter hits this week, and being a fan of both Eisbrecher and Pro-Pain (not to mention a bit curious as to how the band members' vastly different backgrounds might interact), I knew it would be worth a spin.
At first pass, Darkhaus is not at all what I expected: placing heavy emphasis on solid rock melodies with accessible hooks, their sound fully frequently enters the spheres of European dance-pop and radio-friendly rock. While maintaining a level of tension and urgency akin to cyber-rock unit Army of the Universe, even industrial “dance metal” elements carried over from Keplinger's work in Eisbrecher, they find a way to lend a tragically romantic edge to the material, primarily through solid songwriting and Hanlon's dramatic vocals. As bizarre as the combo may seem at first, especially coming from a band which features key figures in extreme music, they pull off a tricky balance of genre opposites, and come out with a surprisingly unique and catchy sound. There's definitely more HIM than hardcore in My Only Shelter, but that's not to say they can't bring full-on metal menace when a song calls for it – as evidenced by tracks like “Hour of Need” and “Drive,” and a heavy EDM "Eisbrecher remix” of the track "Breaking the Silence."
The mostly straightforward modern rock structures are often lifted into a more sublime realm by Hanlon's commanding lead vocal, which runs the spectrum from gothic gloom to soaring dark-pop anthems. While up-tempo cuts like "Break Down The Walls” benefit from some suitably manic riffs by Meskil and Stephens, the band's “dark and emotional” self-description fits the formula, and there's definitely a bleak undertone to songs like "Grace Divine" and "Breaking The Silence,” while “Angelina” is strongly reminiscent of gothic icons Sisters of Mercy. Their range does extend beyond the gloom, however, with some remarkably uplifting moments in the choruses of "Life Worth Living" and "Our Time." One of the strongest examples of the band's stylistic balancing act is the single “Ghost,” which moves easily between pop ballad and hard-hitting dark rock.
Regardless of the seemingly polar-opposite histories behind the Darkhaus lineup, My Only Shelter is a consistently strong album, showcasing tight songwriting skills and a knack for seductive melodies. Hanlon's vocal delivery and the heavier elements brought by Meskil and Stephens help bring equal parts passion and power to a core of gothic dance-rock, resulting in a refreshing new take on a familiar genre.