Review Summary: Not quite the promised return to roots, Goodbye to the Machine's darker, angrier brother is still a great album on its own merits.
In 2009 Hurt released their fifth album, Goodbye to the Machine to much fuss and complaining from their fans and the rock community in general. After the great self titled and Consummation and the near perfect Volumes I and II their switch to a more alt rock approach demanded some adjustment. But although many complained about the change in sound, the intricacies were still there. Gone were the soft/loud dynamics except for a couple of songs, and in their place were catchier hooks than the band had used before. The album was still detailed and powerful, with J. Loren maintaining status quo as one of the most powerful and emotional singers in the hard and mainstream rock genres.
Last year after the final recording touches were put on The Crux the band touted it as a return to the styles used on the Volumes, and promised a darker, heavier record than Goodbye to the Machine was, and they were partially right in that assessment. The songs present on The Crux are very much darker and more aggressive than Goodbye to the Machine's cleaner toned beauty. The overall tones and songwriting of the Volume albums aren't present here except in snippets. Rather than a return to to an earlier form, Hurt have forged ahead and crafted something else, an album that walks the line of catchier songwriting found on Goodbye to the Machine and the deeper, angrier tone present on The Consummation and Volume I.
The songs present all fall squarely into hard rock, with barely a re-visitation to the progressive tendencies of earlier albums, though much of that can be attributed to the fact the about half the songs on Vol. I and II were songs they had been working and reworking for years prior and had rerecorded. For this and the last album the songs didn't have the same lengthy writing and rewriting cycle. Still, the weakest song on the album is still leagues better than majority of what plays on the radio.
The production this time around is crisp and rough. There is a slight feeling of polish here, but there is a ferocity to the instruments not found previously. The bass drum punches firmly through the amazingly thick and heavy bass lines with ease, and the guitars sound crisp and focused, bright chorus effects sounding beautiful and distortion sounding appropriately dirty.
The musicianship present is much of the same they've used from the start, opting for smarter songwriting as opposed to flashier technicality. Overall Loren isn't as present on his violin as in past works, something that makes the album sound slightly more generic than its predecessors, but the addition of a piano in songs such as Adonai and Caught in the Rain add a nice touch. The guitar and bass add the perfect accents when needed and have a much bluesier feel this time around. The drumming has improved from the last album, being more appropriately aggressive this time and throwing in fills and accents at every opportunity.
So When is a great opener, showcasing the sounds of the rest of the album all in one song, much the same way that Summer's Lost functioned on Volume II. From there it goes on a roller coaster of sound from heavier tracks like Eden (possibly one of the most emotional choruses the band has ever done, and a standout for Loren), When It's Cold, and Numbers that remind of Goodbye to the Machine and cleaner tracks such as Adonai and Links and Waves (Possibly the band's best song, even clocking in at 1:15). Others, such as Cuffed and Sally Slips could fit on earlier albums alongside songs such as Better and Unkind and not sound too out of place.
There are a few quirks here and there that keep it from being as great as their last three, such as the intro and outro to Adonai, the occasionally awkward layering in So When, and the phoned in songwriting of How We End Up Alone. Despite these few quirks, the band is still firing on all cylinders as effectively as ever. Many people will probably dismiss this album after one or two listens, but it is as much a grower as Goodbye to the Machine was, more fun to listen to after you learn the albums intricacies and secrets. And there is a surprising amount of emotion and power present for those willing to listen.