Review Summary: An album good enough to get me off my ass and reviewing again (temporarily at least)
There seems to be a rather fallacious belief held by much of the metal community today: that France has one, and only one metal band: GOJIRA!
This simply isn't true, by my count France has at least six, if not, well over a thousand more. Don't get me wrong, those polyrhythm spewing, riff chucking frogs are one hell of a solid group, but people's insistence on comparing everything even remotely metallic from this nation to Gojira is getting as old as calling anything with a harmonized lead In Flames or Dark Tranquillity-esque. Any music scene is bound to have some overlap in influences and while Poitiers natives Hacride fit very comfortably into the technical death-groove scene France has fostered they stand out in quite a few impressive ways. I submitted a review roughly a year ago for Hacride's last album, "Amoeba," that saw me gushing like a giddy little girl over what I found to be one of the most refreshing and inspired metal albums of 07'. It was clear that these guys had listened to their fair share of Meshuggah, Opeth, Strapping Young Lad, and Neurosis albums, but somehow they didn't sound like MeshuggahOpethStrappingYoungLadNeurosis, they had a sound of their own which they beautifully fleshed out on Amoeba. Furthermore, they were willing to experiment and break the rules in ways most modern metal bands would not dare try. How many other metal bands cover flamenco songs, and do so successfully? Yeah, I thought so.
Needless to say, upon hearing that these guys were pumping out a follow up this year that exuberant little girl poked her head out again, with perhaps a hint of apprehension. When many bands, especially those in the heavy music world, come off the high of an impressive album they often get all ambitious and put out a pretentious and self-indulgent work that is relatively unlistenable (cough cough Colors, The Blackening, Death Cult Armageddon). From Hacride's press on "Lazarus" it sounded very much like this this would be the case (7 tracks and a 15 minute opener- Yikes!) Fortunately, my fears proved unfounded; "Lazarus" is a fantastic record.
I'm all for epic songs, but generally anything over the 12 minute threshold has a tendency to send me adrift. Fortunately, I was too busy giving myself a neck cramp to realize at the demolishing end of "To Walk Among Them" that a quarter of an hour had passed me by. And what a glorious 15 minutes it was. This mammoth of an opener timidly leads you in with a soft acoustic intro and some modest drumming and then watch out...what follows is not storm after a calm, but a friggen tsunamicane. Yes, I just said tsunamicane. A sinister stuttering triplet groove gets the blood pumping and then we are treated to a sky statteringly huge chorus featuring Sam Borreau's greatly improved clean singing voice, some psychelic guitar shredding and one mindblowing, blastbeaten climax. Oh, and the end riff- if you have anything fragile in your hands I suggest at this point you put it down.
"Act of God" gives one no time to recuperate. The song is claustrophobic bombast of down-tuned polyrythmic nuttiness with just a hint of Dream-Theatery flair that keeps the heaviness a bustlin'. It is not until "Phenomenon" that the listener actually gets his first break. Two minutes of droning guitar provide a little breathing room before culminating in one of the most powerful instrumental pieces Neurosis never wrote. "A World of Lies" and "Awakening" are every bit as impressive as the preceding tracks while further exploring the dynamic nature of the band's sound. Finally, "My Enemy" caps off the album in a chillingly apocalyptic fashion. Seriously if the Wachowski brothers ever find themselves in need of some truly awe inspiring fightscene scoring they would really do themselves some good giving this track a listen.
While it would be difficult to classify Hacride as anything other than prog metal, it is worth noting that Hacride are not progressive in the sense they go off on lengthy wank sessions or try to cram as many time changes into their music as possible. The group if anything has far more in common creatively with a band like Isis than they do, say, Between the Buried and Me. Hacride's songs are lengthy because they take great care to make every transition and switch-up as Jiffy smooth as possible. Nothing ever feels forced, the songs just flow and it is clear that this was the way the band intended their music to be. The members accordingly standout much more for their uniqueness than they do raw showmanship.
Guitarist Adrian Grousset is clearly the driving force behind the band's sound. Being the sole guitar player in the group, he composes all such parts on the album. His crushing riff style blends the weighty epicness of post-metal with the faster drive of the band's style for a really unique effect. His leads and clean sections also have an absorbing otherworldly tone that together with the subtle keyboard atmosphere of the record is downright entrancing. On the percussion end, Olivier Laffond gives a fantastic performance which batters with the systematic groove of Thomas Haake and the tribal quirkiness of Danny Carey. He plays a substantial part in the smooth flow the entire album is driven by. Unfortunately bassist, Benoist Danneville gets a little lost in the mix due to the massive guitar and keyboard layering. Samuel Borreau completes the package with his smorgasbord of different metallic vocal stylings. He expanded his range considerably on the band's last outing utilizing a gruff singing voice along with his Jens Kidman-like roar. Borreau continues to broaden his repertoire here with gentle Tool-like cleans in "Awakening" and "My Enemy" as well layered melodic yells in "To Walk Among Them" and "Act of God" that give a nod to Devin Townsend's signature style. His accent occasionally obscures his words, but it if anything it only adds to the band's distinctiveness.
I suppose in a sort of round about fashion the point I'm trying to relay is that "Lazarus" is truly a brilliant album that deserves all the acclaim it hasn't yet gotten... Thoroughly interesting and challenging without ever sinking into incoherence, "Lazarus" is a crucial purchase for anyone who likes their heavy music very heavy and heavily intelligent.
Oh, and this trounces "The Way of All Flesh.”