Review Summary: Seahaven evolve and mature simultaneously, resulting in an unexpected masterpiece.
The road leading up to Halo of Hurt
went something like this: Seahaven, a pop-punk/emo/indie-rock outfit renowned for trying new things (see: 2014’s Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only
), went quiet for over half of a decade. Live shows were sparse while their tweets were both rare and cryptic. Somewhere along the way, they scrapped an entire album’s worth of demos. Finally, after six years and without much fanfare, they’ve come out of nowhere to drop a dark and brooding magnum opus which marks a huge evolution from their previous works. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. While Halo of Hurt
might not go toe-to-toe with The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
or Science Fiction
on an objective platform, it is
Seahaven’s very own version of that critical maturation: a crowning achievement and their most haunting, complex composition yet.
Halo of Hurt
sets an ominous tone with its epic, slow-burning opener ‘Void’ – which commences with the distant buzz of bass/strings before kicking the door down with a massive guitar riff. It’s immediately clear that Seahaven have torched any semblance of formulaic songwriting on this one: rather than obeying a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure, ‘Void’ alternates between percussive breakdowns and gorgeous piano, erupting violently and in multiple directions while refusing to conform to a refrain. The subject matter is decidedly morose, with Soto noting that all of our paths eventually converge upon death: “So take the dose that will help the most / Till you feel the rope tighten on your throat / You see we’re all just sailing home at our own pace.” Most of Halo of Hurt
follows along this same pathway, featuring nine off-kilter tracks sprawled across forty thrilling and intensely moody minutes.
‘Moon’ and ‘Dandelion’ continue to experiment with the darker tones established at the record’s onset; the former a grungy, guitar-driven piece that feels inspired by Daisy
(or perhaps even The Jesus Lizard’s Goat
), and the latter a lush – albeit gloomy and tense – midtempo rocker. Halo of Hurt
largely thrives on its wiry progression and impulsive whims, always leaving you guessing as to where a song will arrive at next. Drums swell up seemingly out of thin air and then vanish just as quickly, as if they fell straight off a cliff ledge. Gentle guitar tones change subtly and gradually until you find yourself unwittingly listening to something harsh. Verses often meander, in zero rush, to reach a chorus – and that’s if they arrive at one at all. Seahaven find themselves experimenting heavily with dynamics: instruments and accents come and go like the tide. It’s what makes Halo of Hurt
so fluid yet simultaneously unpredictable. One of the best examples is ‘I Don’t Belong Here’, where all of the music actually cuts out around the 1:20 mark and the song ratchets up its percussive tempo until the whole thing becomes a whole new level of in-your-face abrasive. As with every song on Halo of Hurt
, ‘I Don’t Belong Here’ arrives at a unique flourish – in this case when it once again shifts directions towards emphatically plucked electric guitars and Soto laments: “Sleeping in a coffin, trying to get to heaven / Drown in holy water, again and again.”
The band indulges in conventional structuring for the first time with ‘Lose’ – a gorgeous, shimmering ballad betrayed by its forsaken underlying lyrics: “There a benevolent limb / Left hanging out in the cold without a hand there to hold / And it’s the circle we're in, can’t find a way to admit when we're wrong.” The calm beauty of the song makes it feel like it could have been a Reverie Lagoon
standout, but it easily qualifies as Halo of Hurt
’s most aesthetically pleasing moment; it glides in gracefully and then floats off into the ether like some sort of fleeting dream. ‘Lose’ sets up one of the record’s most aggressive tracks in ‘Harbor’ – which crashes through the gates with heavy electric guitar riffs before building up to the album’s most anthemic chorus. Halo of Hurt
’s widespread deemphasis of catchy/melodic choruses makes it feel even more impactful and earned, elevating ‘Harbor’ as one of the album’s most striking moments.
The album’s closing trio of songs suffer no shortage of creative or kinetic energy, either. The first two – ‘Living Hell’ and ‘Bait’ – perfect Seahaven’s soft-to-loud formula, with the former trickling in via eerie piano notes and then exploding into a series of menacing riffs, and the latter reaching one last glorious crescendo on the heels of a beautiful ambient section. ‘Eraser’ is Halo of Hurt
’s most palpably mournful song, echoing heartbroken elegies like “I fantasized you were a children’s toy / That I shook real hard until you were no more” above aimlessly picked guitars – which simply make the lines feel even more
lost and melancholic. It’s the ideal way to end Halo of Hurt
: an emotionally shattered moment that feels like a natural conclusion to all of the chaos and darkness that preceded it.
With Halo of Hurt
, Seahaven sound like a new band. It appears that time off – and even the disappointment of scrapping an entire album – was the best thing that could have happened to them. Not only did it lead to some of their darkest and most serious subject matter to date, but it also forced them to completely reinvent their approach. Halo of Hurt
is tense and sprawling; destructive and violent in nature. It’s not their most immediate work, but it is elaborately composed, densely layered, and highly unpredictable. Seahaven created their very own The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
with this release – call it their magnum opus, call it their classic – but whatever Halo of Hurt
is, it’s frighteningly good.