Editor’s Note: This album’s release date has been moved to February 19th, 2021 — exactly three years to the day since the band’s last album Arson was released.
The black metal scene has a reputation for being purist and conservative. Over the last decade or so, however, more bands have begun to emerge who have fused elements of black metal with other styles. Whilst not always to the taste of the black metal traditionalists, these artists have contributed to the progression and diversification of a genre that could otherwise have lost its relevance. Austria’s Harakiri For The Sky are one such band. They fuse black metal with post-rock and post-hardcore and have, over nearly a decade, built up a reputation for crafting sophisticated and deeply emotive atmospheric metal.
Mære, Harakiri For The Sky’s fifth album, is a double-disc affair that clocks in at 85 minutes long. That said, there are just 10 songs here, with all but one being more that seven minutes long. The space afforded by these long pieces is generally used not for extended solos but to build atmosphere via layers of evocative guitar riffs. Mære is, according to the press release, named after “a malicious folk entity that creeps up on sleeping people’s chests during the night and instils breathlessness and anxiety”. The atmospheric arrangements that surround the compositions do indeed invoke that kind of feeling – unsettled, desperate, angsty.
Main songwriter Matthias “MS” Sollak handles all guitar and bass parts on the band’s albums, and throughout Mære he deftly weaves tapestries of sound which often feature three or more guitar parts all perfectly intertwined. Out of monstrous tidal waves of chordal noise swim clean arpeggios and soaring tremolo-picked lead melodies. The sound is often abrasive and harsh, but there is also an attention to melody which recalls post-hardcore bands like At The Drive-In. Although many of the riffs recall the chaotic intensity black metal is known for, the performances are all absolutely tight.
MS locks in seamlessly with session drummer Kerim “Krimh“ Lechner, whose faultless grooves, blast beats, double-kick runs, fills and cymbal flourishes contribute an assured and unwavering foundation to the songs here. Vocalist Michael “JJ” V. Wahntraum screams his words with unrelenting desperation and visceral rawness. The album also features the contributions of two guest vocalists: Neige of Alcest and the anonymous singer of Gaerea. The record’s production is crisp and clear; each sound occupies its own space and the drums cut through satisfyingly. Although the sound is polished and “modern,” the mix avoids falling into the trap of sounding too plastic or overly processed; judicious use of reverbs and a slightly distant vocal mean that it still sounds raw in the way that black metal should.
Mære sticks largely to a cohesive sound and doesn’t enter any territory that will be too unfamiliar for fans of the band. Nevertheless, there are many notable standout moments. “I, Pallbearer” veers dizzyingly between spacey prog metal and breakneck-speed black metal endowed with frenzied blast beats and double-kick lunacy.
“Us Against December Skies” twists folky lead guitar melodies around 6/8 grooves and pulls off the feat of sounding at times simultaneously euphoric and bleak, with unexpected major chords peeking their way out of the chaos. “Three Empty Words” melds emotional post-hardcore-tinged vocals and lead guitar with black metal beats. This track at times features a D-beat and breakdowns which make it almost slide into full-blown hardcore territory. “Time Is A Ghost” begins with an acoustic guitar arpeggio before it crashes into fast paced-paced post-metal which then breaks down into bleak and slow doom-laden atmospheres which again give way to frantic blast beats. All the while delicate guitar melodies dance on top and JJ barks with unwavering despair and conviction.
The album closes with perhaps its most unexpected moment: a cover of Placebo’s “Song To Say Goodbye.” Naturally Harakiri For The Sky dial the heaviness levels up compared to the original, with Brian Molko’s original melodic vocal delivery replaced with JJ’s screams, and with drums and guitars reaching a black metal crescendo.
Mære will not be an easy listen for everyone. Whilst it does contain light and shade and dynamic peaks and troughs, each song does tend to build towards a similar kind of intense, anguished and furious crescendo. Some might feel that there is not enough variation on offer here – that JJ’s screams, MS’ walls of guitar noise and Krimh’s turbo-charged drums become a little too familiar and repetitive over the course of 85 minutes. But perhaps that misses the point. If the idea is to really hammer home feelings of unease, fierce anger and emotional catharsis, then Mære is undoubtedly a success. Existing fans of the band will no doubt agree, and other extreme metal enthusiasts who have appetites for melody and heartfelt emotion will also find a lot of nourishment here.
Mære will be released via AOP Records on
29th January 2021 February 19, 2021.
Review copy courtesy of Secret Service PR. All opinions are our own.