Review Summary: Bend the knee.
Hail the Sun have nothing new to say.
That was the sentiment that prevailed following the release of Mental Knife
. It didn’t pertain to the overall value of the record itself, which was certainly of a greater stratum than others still roving about in the realm of post hardcore. This was due to how the album, for all its captivating moments, had a sense of bordering on solid
; there weren’t many hints that the California quarter were seeking to reinvent the wheel, instead opting to recreate the success of their explosive debut. In this section of their musical vocation, the collective was at a crossroads all too familiar: continue to produce consistent, albeit gradually less fascinating discs—the post hardcore equivalent to The Black Dahlia Murder—or challenge the status quo, rebelling against the stereotype that threatened to overtake them. After all, in observing the body count of the division Hail the Sun emerged from, demise in some manner seemed fated, with Fall of Troy experiencing the genre’s funniest and simultaneously most depressing identity crisis, A Lot Like Birds and Stolas bowing out, and Dance Gavin Dance demonstrating diminishing returns in every successive CD. The seemingly bygone days of Happiness
and No Place
left Hail the Sun as the single giant remaining in an environment characterized by derision over ‘Swancore’ and eventual collapse. Several things are made clear upon hearing New Age Filth
. For one, the still-young outfit are far away from succumbing to linearity. Most importantly, when concerning the absolute state of post hardcore as it stands, Hail the Sun are undeniably kings of this particular mountain. It’s not even a close call to make.
Compared to where the listening world left the group off at, this fourth record is decidedly more accessible without losing touch with the intricate musicianship that continuously served as the band’s bedrock. One is better suited slipping on their dancing shoes, getting’ down and tappin’ along as the collective lays down addicting grooves and refrains in equal measure, creating a disc that prioritizes catchy rhythms. Look no further than the excellent mixture portrayed by “Misfire”: a track that’s more of an artful juggling act than a typical post hardcore venture. Buttressed by dazzling melodic riffs and Donovan Melero’s seemingly invincible vocal cords—the charismatic frontman has yet to provide so much as a hint that he’s growing fatigued—the tune progresses through adrenaline-pumping verses into an attractive chorus built into a groovy breakdown. The comparatively more straightforward “Solipsism” revolves around an upbeat pace driven at the behest of the percussion’s thunderous call, all the while featuring overarching guitar melodies that beautifully characterize the sonic environment. An infectious chorus belted out anthemically by Melero solidifies the number as a soon-to-be concert staple. It signifies the stylistic shift Hail the Sun commit to; whereas Mental Knife
dove headfirst into astounding instrumentation, this novel effort exercises caution, instead opting to let the playing be subservient to an overall goal, not the objective in of itself. Aforementioned refrains receive their desired spotlight, Melero’s unwavering voice is allowed to conquer any provided phrases, and melodies flourish in cooperation with the song. In a way, they’ve matured; the technicality is a bonus, not a necessity.
A slight alteration in direction has resurrected the cleverness once abound in the band’s output. Though it is certainly evident that Hail the Sun are trending towards a broader appeal, doing so has not cost them an inch of their edge. The unpredictable contents of “Slipped My Mind” are evidence enough that the inventive songwriting has only improved by cutting back the fat or redefining the purpose of complicated instrumentation. Bounding from restrained strumming to frantic passages, the entry demonstrates the power of this fully armed and operational battle station, delicately woven strings rubbing elbows with robust vocal lines. A polished production heightens the intensity of the biting melodies that swarm about the listener, be it for their unhinged meandering across the fretboard or unexpected heaviness when a breakdown barges into the scene, Melero uttering a rare example of his fierce harsh vocals to drive the weight further onto the audience. Appearing as the conclusion of the album is “Punch Drunk,” where once again the crew is engaged in an elegant balancing endeavor, pushing and pulling between powerful post hardcore blows and quiet, graceful strokes that cause a sense of melancholia to invade proceedings. A sudden acceleration brings the screams back into focus as the track rushes into a final iteration of its chorus, slowly disintegrating as the seconds tick off the record’s duration. Energetic moments of a similar caliber are easy to discover in prior numbers, such as the surprising turn towards dark waters in the second half of “Slander,” presenting a leap in tempo forces the hand of Hail the Sun’s considerable strength. A more atmospheric is uncovered in the hopeless romanticism and longing vocals of “Made Your Mark,” dealing another devastating strike in an LP stocked with plenty others.
Stradling the line of approachability with a genre known for its chaotic propensities is a difficult enough task, yet Hail the Sun have succeeded with flying colors. It not only reasserts their position in their scene, but also reconfigures how the group functions in a meaningful, engaging way that doesn’t come attached with a negative price tag. Previous overreliance on technicality is in the rearview mirror, replaced instead by diversified creations that distinguish themselves from the pack in a unique manner. The more gradual progression of “Hysteriantics” is available for those desiring nothing more than to bang their heads senselessly, enslaved by the menacing tone of the track. Equally compelling is the absolute entertainment value of “Parasitic Cleanse.” Buoyed by a dance-worthy groove in its verses, the song bounces around with a palpable vigor that is a critical feature of the disc as a whole. In every moment of the brief half-hour-and-some-change runtime, the liveliness of the quartet is a delight to behold, inviting the listener deeper into the material and leaving them craving more. In that, the release has the minor flaw of ending on a seemingly abrupt note; the Cali gents appeared as though they had enough inspiration to keep at it for another few hours. Perhaps in leaving such an anticipation for future experiences of a comparable level, Hail the Sun accomplished what didn’t seem attainable: made the post hardcore world not only care about the so-called ‘Swancore’ sound once more, but actively desire more of it. Four records deep in their career, it has been proven that the lads can acclimate to changing tides. If the quality retains this high echelon, they might control the whole ocean next.