Wed 5th March 2014
Hark's debut record has been on our radars for a while, ever since they graced us with their phenomenal Mythopoeia 7" in 2012 we've been waiting patiently.
For those who didn't have the pleasure, it should be mentioned that Jimbob Isaac, guitarist and vocalist here was the driving force in the juggernaut that was Taint. That band managed to sound absolutely huge for just a three-piece and levelled venues for around 16 years or more. Those familiar with the innate technicality and bracing style of Jimbob's guitar work will hear that in spades here too and the same flattening production is brought to bear too, this time guided by the genius hand of Kurt Ballou of Converge.
Opening with the twisting, ever-changing stomper Palendromeda, it feels like Hark throwing off Taint's ghost with jump leads attached to their collective cortexes. Notes travel at chaotic speeds one moment, to be met with blunt force the next, all with Jim's trademark battlecry-esque vocals sounding as fevered and raw as ever. It's hard to pin down an influence on any of Hark's music, rooted as Taint were in hardcore of the mid 90s, they carried those metallic influences, but had a sense of sludge, doom and stoner rock in there while managing not to sound like any of them. If this debut album is anything to go by, Hark are carving out an even deeper groove, indeed if that seems possible.
The deep and resonant troughs of Hounded by Callous Decree give it a more epic feel than was displayed on their single and the songwriting seems to have moved along. No longer are sections jumped between, rather the segues are seamless and it's even more engaging than you'd expect. Vocals are gloriously double-tracked in places, giving it a more atmospheric tone and lyrics seem portentous, full of what sound like references to mythology and religion, loaded with what sound like veiled missives that are achingly personal.
The production Ballou has given them deserves more discussion too actually. With such a distinctive production style, one might worry that he has accentuated all the parts that make Hark a gripping proposition to insane levels. Not so, bass may have been pushed forward and drums crack with satisfying clarity, but there's still room in there to hear everything happening. The guitar sound in particular sounds intimate as it is intricate and every fretted note is clearly audible and clear. It's frankly astonishing. The re-recorded Mythopoeia and Sins on Sleeves sound more vital than before, with added nuances added in the album sessions it's fascinating how much extra has been wrung out.
The mathy and tech-fueled Black Hole South West lurches with a confident swagger. Vocals here are ritualistic and appear to speak of the daily grind and it flattening peoples' existence. Not a new theme by any means, but delivered in this context, it sounds like a rallying cry.
Elsewhere the addictive coda of Scarlet Extremities is a chance to gasp for air and is as relaxed as this album seems to get. The haunting XTAL 0.6 serves as a breakwater too, swelling just before the final track crashes onto the shore.
Clear Light Of... is somewhat of an epic, featuring Neil Fallon (of you should totally know this, Clutch) pouring his magic all over the track it's a dizzying and psychedelic beast that is a combination of staccato notes flying past in a vortex and a real head-nodder of a looping, snarling groove. Both Jimbob and Fallon deliver their lines calm and measurably to begin with and the gnomic lyrics are ones to pick apart for years. Fallon in particular almost crosses into Impetus EP-like fury at times. The words One thousand years of monotonous toil never sounded like such a treat (or indeed a future Clutch song title).
It's safe to say this is one that you can repeat ad infinitum and still be discovering things after a dozen listens and we'll probably still be unpicking it's complexity come Christmas. For the meantime, this is the new way, and the new way's good.
There you go, I didn't even use the word 'riff' until now.