Dark Haunters – To Persevere Is Diabolical
Label: Revalve Records
Listening to Dark Haunters’ new release, To Persevere Is Diabolical, reminds me of the first time I heard a symphonic black metal album. It was a split between Dimmu Borgir and Old Man’s Child, and I was blown away by the mix of heavy blackened riffs and melodic keyboards. Everything sounded so epic, almost like the soundtrack to some dark, fantasy-based movie full of demons and wizards. Dark Haunters have that same mix of brutality and beauty, which leaves me wondering why I haven’t heard about them before.
The keyboards on To Persevere Is Diabolical permeate every nook and cranny of the album, giving the songs a slightly gothic tone, similar to Dimmu Borgir or Cradle Of Filth. The guitar work, however, keeps things pretty brutal, ranging from speedy black metal to crunchy melodic death metal influenced riffs. Vocalist Aramor has a pretty impressive range, seamlessly going from deep death growls to ear piercing shrieks, which helps to add even more atmosphere to an already thoroughly atmospheric record. “In My Fortress” is a particular high-point, showcasing the full range of the band’s sound in one song; symphonic keys, fast riffs, layered vocals, and pounding drums rip come blasting out at the very beginning of the song, and don’t let up. Even when the pace slows down, Dark Haunters attack their instruments with jaw-dropping intensity, as can be heard on the Old Man’s Child-esque riff midway through “In My Fortress.”
The production on this kind of album is very important; making it too clean would really take the venom out of the music, but too raw would muddy up the symphonics. Thankfully, Dark Haunters absolutely nailed it, and give many of the major-label acts a run for their money. Everything is loud and clear in the mix, while still maintaining a very layered sound that reveals something new upon each listen.
If you like epic-sounding black metal, Dark Haunters will certainly be right up your alley, so go pick up a copy of To Persevere Is Diabolical stat!
Halcyon Days – Halcyon Days
Call it scream, post-hardcore, melodic metalcore, “progressive hardcore,” or whatever you want; one thing that can certainly be said for Oslo, Norway’s Halcyon Days is that they are certainly good at what they do. Though I tend to prefer more aggressive forms of metal (particularly black metal and death metal), I’m also a sucker for a good melody, and there is PLENTY of melody to go around on Halcyon Days, the band’s latest release.
Disclaimer: if you don’t like the hardcore screams-meets-emo clean vocals of the mid 00’s post-hardcore/metalcore scene, this will NOT be for you. The guitars are equal parts melodic, mathy, and aggressive, coming off as a mix of Underoath, Pianos Become The Teeth, and Architects, with plenty of cool guitar effects for the gear nerds in the crowd. “Echoes” has some pretty cool guitar bits that show a little bit of a progressive rock flair, though the music still has “Warped Tour” written all over it (not necessarily a bad thing, mind you). Halcyon Days don’t really try to hide their influences in their songwriting, but aren’t exactly ripping any of them off either. The clean vocals grated on my nerves a bit, sounding a little whiny, but that kind of goes with territory in this genre, and the musicianship more than makes up for it. Still, I can’t help but think this album would have been better received had it come out in 2004 instead of 2016, when all the kids are into djent.
As I said before, this band might not be for fans of the more extreme side of heavy music, but they’re certainly good at what they do. I enjoyed a lot of the melodies and, being a bit of gear nerd myself, I enjoyed the different guitar effects. The mixing is immaculate, giving the guitars a pretty big volume boost, though not overpowering any of the other instruments. The riffs are definitely the high-point, and the man behind the mixing board certainly knew this.
If you like the melodic post-hardcore sounds of Underoath, you’ll probably enjoy this record.
Hypersonic – Existentia
Label: Revalve Records
Many prolific acts echo in Existentia. There are elements of Fairyland in both the pacing and liberal application of synth. Hints of Myrath lurk in several intros with hard and heavy approaches accented by Eastern touches. As well, flavours of Gloryhammer reside in various keyboard and percussion sections. Hypersonic take this handful of strong influences and wrap it in high production values and theatrical twists. While the keys are too in your face, every other element of the music still manages to come through loud and clear; this is especially evident in the vocals, which consist of both male and female parts that provide contrast for one another as one takes on soaring highs while the other digs into the lower end, occasionally dipping into growls.
Of course, while filled with delights, Existentia is not without its flaws. Hypersonic have a bad tendency to let their energy and excitement drop off in the album. Often they will build up the action, get the blood pumping, get the heads banging, but then morph into a soft piano piece that kills the mood. It feels like they add in the switch up simply for the sake of variety, but the change only takes away from the experience rather than adding to it. This problem is mostly present in the first half of the album, as the second half tends to stick to its guns. Still, the slow start does raise impatience and could result in the record being ejected prematurely.
Existentia has strength in its production and varied performance that draws from a number of sources. The album drags in parts, but eventually picks up and launches into the stratosphere. If you’re willing to invest a little time and patience, Existentia is worth a listen.
Cetacean – BREACH | SUBMERGE
Label: Apes Who Looked Up Records
With the more than thirty minutes of this album’s material split into three tracks, Cetacean come off as a band that wants to make a big impression with their debut. Sporting titles like “Earth Is A Whisper”, “Relationships Deteriorate”, and “Outpour I. II. III”, things are introduced in a way that’s grandiose without going overboard (though if they’d added subheadings to those divisions of “Outpour”, that would probably have tipped the balance).
The first of these songs indulges in a few minutes of near-jazzy instrumental toodling before abruptly bursting out into howls and violent guitar chords. From there the standard black metal affair gets blended with the preamble’s style for some proggy (though fast and screaming) arrangements, morphing through rhythms and musical approaches in rapid succession, nimbly flipping into and out of melodic bridges, and switching from howls to clean vocals with impressive smoothness. Granted, none of these things are too rare in the realm of modern black metal, but Cetacean do an excellent job of stitching it all together in effective and moving ways.
Given the length and variety of each track, going into more details on any of them would basically be a reprise of the last paragraph; however, in common with their churning sets of attributes, the songs are also linked by the band going in different directions with each of them. “Relationships Deteriorate”, for example, makes more use of choppy breakdown rhythms throughout its run, while “Outpour” swirls in some death metal for the riffs and vocal stylings early on, and atmospheric calmness towards the mid-section before returning to heavy blackened territory.
All in all, it’s a debut album of which the band could easily be proud years from now, and something that should draw the ears of those looking for something that could be slotted in alongside Gnaw Their Tongues, White Darkness, Trinacria, or other bands which use black metal as more of a base than a final goal. Plenty of meat on the bones for repeat listening, and while it does seem to finish without rising to a new level, that should be remedied by their next release, which will hopefully released soon enough to hold onto the momentum from this beginning.