Monday, October 31, 2016

Hackneyed - Inhabitants of Carcosa (2015)

I feel that if you're going to invoke Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft or Robert Chambers in your lyrics, album and song titles, there comes with that a certain level of accountability and responsibility to those concepts and qualities which have permitted the source material to survive for so many years in the vivid imaginations of their readers. Within the realm of metal, or 'extreme' metal, this so often proves a disappointment, not because it's a bad thing to share the inspiration, and not because the records christened with these references are even musically bankrupt, but because so few acts actually manage to match the imagery of the original prose, the ideas of measured and immeasurable dread and atmosphere which lent such works immortality in the first place, to this musical medium.

Sure, it's cool to namedrop something deep, dark and evil for your death and black metal band, so a poster or tee shirt or album cover can be drafted up by someone who 'gets it' more than your songwriters, but so often the practice is used to obfuscate the fact that you're listening to something treacherously conventional which bears no semblance to its inspiration. So I have to give the band Hackneyed a little credit on their fourth album Inhabitants of might not entirely succeed at conjuring forth the gloomy mythic city that was the subject of Bierce's short story, but there was clearly an effort to round off any banalities of the death metal component with swells of atmosphere, eerie or spacey guitars to offset the bludgeoning, and a good degree of variation throughout that make for a compelling listen. They're not reinventing the wheel, and there's nothing here by way of nuance and riffing that hasn't already inhabited the death metal genre in some capacity, but this is at the least a well-rounded album which delivers on most fronts without submitting to trends of the style.

That's right, this is not a cavern core album, a brutal/tech death exhibition or an HM2 Swede-o-clone, but a panoply of meaty, chugging and churning rhythm guitars, blunt edged gutturals and just enough effects and atmospherics to keep even its most predictable or average note and chord progressions seeming more dramatic and tumescent with the Cyclopean grandeur of such a fictional space. There's a use of warmth and melody to balance out the aggression, which reminds me of their countrymen Sulphur Aeon, only far less reliant on the faster tempos and R'lyeh polish. In fact, the band I would draw most comparisons to would be Hypocrisy, especially the mix of leaden chug sequences (like the end of "God's Own Creation") with the roiling, blasting force of brutal-by-90s-standards death metal as you'll hear in the beginning of that same cut. Although Cadavre's voice isn't quite the same as Peter's, it has that same anthemic structure to its syllabic meter that I so enjoyed on efforts like Abducted and The Final Chapter.

But where those Swedes used their synths and lyrics to mimic their favorite X-Files subjects ('I'm not saying it was aliens...but yeah it was'), this is an homage to Lovecraftian horror, and often really direct (i.e. "Re-animator" or "In Carcosa (The Yellow King)"). Lyrically, the lines here are a mixed bag, with laughably generic murder fare like "The Flaw of Flesh" running up against slightly more thoughtful, literary imagery. Another arguable weak point of the album is that while the grooves lend themselves pretty swell to all the dressings the Germans place on top of them, they're based on riff patterns that we've heard elsewhere in formats like metalcore, Gojira-groove, perhaps even some djent. In that way, like the band's buzzworthy young age when they first debuted, they recall a little of how Decapitated evolved on the record Organic Hallucinosis. Weave that together with the mid 90s Hypocrisy output and you'll get a fairly close approximation of Inhabitants of Carcosa. A steady, assured clobbering which occasionally breaks out into fits of insane blasting.

And for me? It worked. It's certainly a little brickwalled and 'modern' in nature, so almost guaranteed to drive off the nostalgiacs and the 'pure'. With the exception of the Nuclear Blast debut, I think this is another solid, relatively unsung band who still haven't discovered a real distinction, but nevertheless put their share of effort into writing and recording these songs so that the overall product is a death metal record I can sit through a number of spins and appreciate. It lacks the true mystifying horror or complex non-Euclidean composition to really embody its thematic aspirations, but it's the best of the four Hackeneyed albums and shows some promise going forward. The cover artwork by former Night in Gales growler Björn Gooßes is also pretty good.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (a monster at the end of it)

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