There’s a negative connotation around the word, “formulaic”, which is defined as:
Thanks Merriam-Webster! You can see why this isn’t a term that you want describing metal, a genre rooted in creative, wall-breaking freedom and smashing barriers on a
damn-near daily basis. But a few listens to Harakiri for the Sky’s latest offering, Arson, has introduced a question I’ve never really thought about: does being formulaic have to be a bad thing?
Harakiri for the Sky find themselves firmly in what I’ve seen referred to as “hipster metal”, combining the raw musical aggression of black metal with the emotion and melody of post-rock. It’s the peanut butter & bananas of metal genres: under no circumstances should those two vastly different sounds work so well together, but for some reason they just do. Harakiri for the Sky are the mirror image of Alcest (the most well-known “hipster metal” band behind Deafheaven), leaning heavier into the black metal aggression and letting the lead guitar handle all the melody, rather than the vocals. The result is an emotional tornado, an aggressive journey through pain and sadness that belies its frantic pace with crushing lyrical weight.
All of this sounds pretty sweet, right? I would agree, except that Harakiri for the Sky dip into this same brilliant well seven times on the eight tracks of Arson, creating a somewhat repetitive listen. It becomes difficult to differentiate from the tracks when they all sound the same. The track length, with the first seven songs all clocking in over eight minutes long, doesn’t help its case either. Massive song length works wonders in progressive metal, allowing space for bizarre time changes, different movements, and cosmic shifts in sound within a single track, but it doesn’t do any favors for HFTS on Arson, with the more subtle changes in sound further muddling the definition between tracks.
If it sounds like I’m being SUPER negative about this album so far, it’s only because my expectations were so high for Arson. “Heroin Waltz” released months before the album dropped, is likely to finish very high on my Best Songs of the Year list. “Manifesto”, the black sheep track on the record, is a melodeath masterpiece, sounding nothing like the rest of the album and standing out even more because of that. “You are the Scars”, despite it’s intimidating run time, is an amazing sonic journey, with tragically beautiful lyrics and the most impressive melodies on the album. And, for you fellow Twin Peaks fans out there, the album opener is called “Fire, Walk with Me”. So there’s that.
Despite its repetitive nature, Arson is an amazing listen. Despite my feeling that the album is somewhat formulaic, is that a bad thing when the formula is so fucking good? I want Arson to be better than it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic record. Harakiri for the Sky have written an emotionally-rich record in a genre that doesn’t embrace that side nearly enough. If it took them going too emotional to reach that state, than that’s a trade-off that was probably worth making.
I was bound to be a little disappointed with Arson because of my sky-high expectations. I have a feeling once I’ve gotten over this initial disappointment that my rating will be a little higher come the end of 2018. But even through this disappointment I can still tell that Arson is a fantastic album. When your biggest complain is “it’s too emotional”, that means you have a pretty great record on your hands. What Arson shows me is that while Harakiri for the Sky are already pretty amazing, they still have room for growth. As good as Arson is, I expect their next album to be that much better.
“Fire, Walk with Me”, “Heroin Waltz”, “Manifesto”