Review Summary: Within the inner circle
It was inevitable that Wake
would become a yardstick for future Hail the Sun releases. Its potent mixture of elegance and unearthliness (all the while packing a punch) distinguished it as a fine work of post-hardcore; furthermore, Donovan Melero’s lyrics were able to conduct a thorough survey of death, religion, and neuroses. In comparison, Mental Knife
feels more intimate in scope, staying mostly within the personal realm; any etherealness comes not so much from spirit (or contemplations of what is greater than us) than from mind - equally seeming to lack tangibility, yet infinitely more trapping.
In short: no, Mental Knife
doesn’t quite have the highs of Wake
, but it features notable points of change. There are plenty of my favourite Hail the Sun-isms, updated for 2018: the unbarred ferocity that is the duo of Donovan’s shrieks and his rapid-fire drum fills (particularly prominent during the closing moments of “Devotion Cuts”); the painful beauty of “On Existence” and its strategic key changes; the jazz-influenced grooves that have become a staple of the band. Also prominent are the extra-angelic backing vocals, which add a level of tenderness not heard in previous works. More electronic effects show up, generally in the form of vocal warping and warbling, but also as touches of reverberation; it’s a subtle shift in aesthetic that creates a slightly colder, darker soundscape. (Think shades of Royal Coda, if you want a comparison to another swancore band.)
Thematically, I think it makes sense for Mental Knife
to show more cracks in its composure. If Wake
possessed steadfast marches of protest, and Culture Scars
smoothed out wrinkles, Mental Knife
has a current of unease running right under the surface of its skin. The guitars scurry, punctuate, mirroring the agitation so often described; as usual, Donovan is unapologetically blunt about drug addiction and mental turmoil, and his treatment of the issues seems at least partially autobiographical. If there’s something I appreciate about Hail the Sun, it’s their ability to handle such topics with grace, a certain nobility, and that remains on Mental Knife
even as the outpouring is more erratic. There’s the sense that pain has inched closer, interrupted the careful choreography that kept songs at a safer distance. That sense of urgency is evident in the chaotic, syncopated “A Lesson in Lust”, drumming patterns shifting left and right in a dexterous display.
is a modest evolution, an opportunity for Hail the Sun to make a straightforward re-assertion of their principles. It doesn’t lend itself to the same depth of analysis as the ambitious Wake
(and sonically, Secret Wars
is closer to being the spiritual successor of that album). It contains hints of the pensiveness, but not the signature restraint, of Culture Scars
. Nonetheless, Mental Knife
is mostly reassuring, even if it derives more of its merit from lacking obvious fault than the presentation of novel material. It’s something I’m willing to accept, at least during this point of Hail the Sun’s trajectory.