Checking out (with) Harakiri for the Sky
Why not Harakiri for the Heavens or Seppuku for the Sky though?
I’m sure you all have one or perhaps several bands that you keep hearing about but somehow never get around to checking out, and all of a sudden it’s 20 years later and they’ve released 10 albums and you don’t even know where to start, so you just write them off. Austrian post-black poster child Harakiri for the Sky is just such a band for me, but they haven’t been around that long, so when I got the promo for their latest, 5th album Mære, I figured it’s not too late to finally figure out whether I want in on what they’re up to.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that this is immaculately produced stuff. Drums sound big and booming, guitars sound sharp so they can properly soar through their melancholic riffs, and the vocals sit square in the middle of the mix so that every anguished line reaches us clearly. I usually come down in favour of a more raw and dirty sound, but I can certainly tolerate a clean production if the songwriting is interesting. And HFTS has some skill in that department, no doubt. Many songs do an excellent job of establishing an idea, be it a certain melody or a certain mood in their intro and making that the motif of the track, a sort of focal point that it returns to throughout its runtime. In-between those moments of return, the music runs free, climbing peaks of blasting fury, descending into valleys of doom-paced despair, and exploring the meadows that lie between. It’s all rather glorious, fantastic to behold in its melancholic majesty, and I am just so. God. Damn. Bored.
Yes, the band has all those cool songwriting ideas that I mentioned. They would probably make for fantastic songs of about 5 minutes or less. The problem is that every song on here gets stretched to twice that length. Every cool idea feels like it gets strained beyond its breaking point, and every cool moment is lost in the sea of the generic-feeling moments that surround it. By using everything in the toolkit in every song, a weird uniformity is created. None of them are slow all the way; you’re gonna get a blast beat sooner or later. None of them are aggressive all the way; you’re gonna get that quiet part, probably featuring a piano. You’ve heard everything a song has to offer by its halfway point; it’s not likely minute 8 holds anything you haven’t heard by minute three. Likewise, the 8th song doesn’t have anything you haven’t heard on the third. Every fast part, slow part, quiet part, and every possible transition between these has been used up by that point, further cheapening what didn’t feel particularly impactful in the first place.
This toothlessness is exacerbated both by the clean production leveling any drama that the dynamics seek to evoke and, more egregiously, the vocalist. Yes, that anguish I mentioned is there. It’s there all the time. Every part of every song is approached with the exact same style of screaming with a slight hint of singing. Same tone, same intensity, for nearly an hour. It’s grating to the point where I’m thankful for every prolonged instrumental passage, no matter how old it feels. Maybe the band is aware of his shortcomings, because they wanted to feature multiple guest singers on the record. Or maybe they’re not, because the two that remain get criminally underutilised. Neige gets to do a couple of seconds of aah-aah-aaahing on “Sing for the Damage We’ve Done,” and I honestly have no idea what the dude from Gaerea contributes. The album closes with a cover of a Placebo song, which might have been an opportunity to try something interesting, but no. Nothing is wagered, and nothing is won.
As an example of these problems, we can look at “I’m All About the Dusk,” the longest track here. The moody atmosphere that the song establishes in its opening gets spread out over several minutes without making anything significant happen, losing all flavour it might have held. When the song does transition to blasting, what should be a big impactful moment is lessened by a) the feeling that I’ve heard a fast part with a riff like this several times already, and b) the fact that nothing else suggests a heightening of intensity because the vocalist just does exactly what he’s already been doing for several minutes. In this way, the album consistently fails to convey any genuine emotion. The only exception to this is “Time is a Ghost,” which manages to transition from its quiet intro to the song proper in a way that actually packs a punch, and later ramps the intensity back up from a slow part in an impressive fashion. This makes for perhaps the only moments with some oomph on the record, so of course, they need to immediately be buried by the song overstaying its welcome by about three minutes.
I have no problems with a record that sounds monotonous as hell, as long as it has the kind of sound I enjoy. And as said, I can also listen to a record that has a sound I don’t usually enjoy as long as the songwriting is interesting. I don’t find the sound of Mære intriguing, and while there are interesting ideas in the songs, their length and especially the vocalist push the monotony into thoroughly intolerable territory. To answer my initial question then, no, I don’t want in on any of this, not until they commit to either writing interesting songs of consumer-friendly length or songs that warrant their running time.
And that’s only if I don’t consider the other ways in which they fail to commit. The recent events involving Audrey Sylvain, who was supposed to be a third guest on the record, did not colour my opinion of the music. My impression was that the band corrected a stupid mistake by nixing the feature. Having looked into it after having heard the music, I’m not at all surprised by their explantion of their decision. It’s exactly the wishy-washy nonsense I’d expect from a band that plays it safe on all fronts, and it’s not good enough.
Mære is out this Friday on Art of Propaganda Records.