Review Summary: Interesting concept and amazing clean vocal structures. Apart from that, another metalcore album to throw on the pile.
In Hearts Wake are an Australian metalcore band who hail from the small surfing town of Byron Bay on New South Wale's northern coast. This is indeed the same town that spawned the scene-defining, chart-topping, international juggernaut that is Parkway Drive, and this begs the obvious question: is this band the new Parkway Drive?
The answer is a resounding "No. Not yet".
The subject of this review, their debut LP 'Divination', is an album that defies genre standards and not always in good way. While its definitely a solid, well thought-out and considered release (there are four guest vocalists and they are all placed on tracks as similar to their own band's style as possible. I presume that this was decided after the track's had been written, rather than writing songs with guest vocalists in mind), and the band have so obviously poured their heart and soul into this album (the fact that they made the trek to America to record and oversee the mixing process is clear evidence of this), its most unfortunately nothing really out of the ordinary. There are some interesting features, but for the most part its a bog-standard Australian metalcore release: based on an unusual concept and full of breakdowns and sing-a-longs designed to keep the kids in the pit happy. The Parkway Drive influence is very obvious for all to see, and, in fact, the album's third track even features Winston McCall as a guest vocalist.
Paradoxically, however, its these qualities that save it from being worse than it could potentially have been.
Bear with me here because I'm going to go through these claims and support them individually, beginning with the concept. 'Divination's concept was inspired by vocalist Jake Taylor's mother's interest in tarot reading. This is an infinitely more interesting lyrical concept than most local bands who tend to write about evil, overcoming adversity and friendship, and it definitely helps set them apart from the herd. It also has a clear familial connection, which lends a certain emotional weight to the album.
Secondly, the breakdowns. I'm painfully familiar with the opinions of most people who lament the over-use of chug-a-lug breakdowns by the current generation of hardcore bands as a simple means of adding heaviness to a song without having to actually flex their musical muscles. However, most of these breakdowns, while nothing out of the ordinary, are all placed quite well in the songs and breakdowns in general are not over-utilised. On a personal note, there's also a small sample of the word "Killing Frenzy" from the video game 'Halo 3' right before a breakdown in the song "Survival (The Chariot)" that, as a massive 'Halo' nerd, really makes the breakdown memorable.
On a related matter, drummer Caleb Burton provides a very solid backbone to the album as a whole, but his technical footwork during some of these breakdowns is bone-shattering and definitely helps cement the occasionally technical sections of the album, most notably during the intro to 'Shapeless (The Judgement)', which wouldn't have been out of place on Northlane's 'Discoveries' album, and in fact Northlane vocalist Adrian Fitapaldes provides guest vocals on this track.
Finally, the clean vocals. These are without doubt the most gripping part of the album and stop this album, more than any of the aforementioned features, from being a total generic disaster. Bassist Kyle Erich's clean vocals add as much to IN HEARTS WAKE as Ahren Stringer's do to The Amity Affliction. His vocals, while obviously heavily produced and highly-Americanised, are pleasant on the ears and add another layer to the melodies and interweave with said guitars through each song. His performance on 'Traveller (The Fool)' adds an absolutely bone-deep hook to what would be a far lesser track without his input and his vocals are often structured in ways that add hooks while still maintaining a melodic parallel with the guitars, making them both catchy and hard to deliver effectively, let alone with any impact. The fact that he does both so well is a testament to his skill as a singer, and this is driven home on album highlight 'Inertia (The Hermit)', where he spins an incredible harmony with Garret Rapp of The Colour Morale.
However, in the end, this is really just a young band trying to find a handhold to get a head above the masses clamouring for recognition and success in an overfowing cess pool of identikit bands. The guest vocals are nothing special, neither adding nor detracting from the overall experience other than having your younger sibling exclaim "Oh listen, its Winston!" over the music. Further, even though the breakdowns are well-placed, they start to mesh together into an indistinguishable meld of Drop D chugging at about the halfway point of the album and they never really recover.
Ultimately, the only thing that sets this album apart from the hordes is the fascinating lyrical concept and the clean vocal structures. Its just another Aussie metalcore album, undeniably catchy and melodic in places, while retaining brutally heavy and technical aspects in all the right places to maximise their impact in a live performance. You'll love it or hate it and it won't change your mind about the genre at all, but I speak from personal experience that, if nothing else, its mad fun to play through your finest subwoofer while cruising down the highway at 110 km/h.