Buckle up, everyone, it’s time for some feels. Austria’s Harakiri for the Sky is back for some more depressing, blackened post metal brilliance. I’ll admit that I did not take to their last album III: Trauma quite as well as others did. It was a decent album, but paled when compared to their outrageously magnificent sophomore album Aokigahara. To me, Arson marks a so-called return to form and places the band well within my good graces. With the chilly embrace of winter in full effect in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s no better time to listen to an album like this.
I’d like to provide a content warning to readers right now that a great amount of the lyrical content of this band has to do with depression, suicide, death and general loss. Please read the rest of the review and watch the lyric videos at your own discretion.
Arson is a fitting name. This album holds the essence of fire itself. Fire is warm and comforting, its bright and beauteous flames dazzle. Fire is also a destructive force imbued with a sense of loss and finality as it leaves nothing but ash and soot in its wake. It’s a duality that Harakiri for the Sky has always captured pretty well with their music, mixing softer acoustic tones of piano, strings and guitar with the harsher pummeling of post rock and black metal, often within the same song. Check out “Heroin Waltz” for a prime example of this balancing; its intro is soft with acoustics, but the meat of the song is post metal guitar wailing with some blackened blast beats.
One thing I’ve always liked about Harakiri for the Sky is how well J.J.’s vocals flow. Even through all of the unmitigated emotion, they seem to smoothly mesh and harmonize with the instrumentation, something that’s dialed up high on this album. There’s sections of tracks where they fit perfectly together. If you’re a hip-hop fan, it’s similar to listening to skilled rappers vocally ride their production well. Speaking of production, the vocals sound better than ever as well. J.J. comes through just a little clearer in the mix on Arson and it’s easier to understand lyrics. Just listen to “Fire, Walk With Me” to see what I mean – the chorus is magnificent.
The unsung hero of this album is the drums. They’re an exercise in playing your role, but doing such an exceptional job at it that it becomes noteworthy. The complementary rhythms host a variety of moods, whether it’s driving the intensity of the lyrics and vocals home or providing pretty flourishes during instrumental-focused interludes and breaks. The pacing the percussion provides for these songs is so well-executed. Standout moments include the introduction to “The Graves We’ve Dug”, which has nice triplet kicks that roll into little breaks as the song expands on itself. The blast beats I made reference to on “Heroin Waltz” are also a powerful moment on the album.
I usually don’t focus much on bonus tracks, but their cover of Graveyard Lovers‘ “Manifesto” is one of the best tracks this band has ever made and they made it their own. There’s a clean vocal feature by Silvi Bogojevic on it and the dynamic between her and J.J. is absolutely amazing, not to mention that the instrumentation is some of the most intense stuff you can find not only on this album, but in their whole career. Find a way to listen to this track.
The album is a little long, but if you’re down with the mood and vibe of Arson, it’s hardly a nuisance. The journey provided by this music doesn’t really loosen its hold enough for your mind to wander or notice how much time has passed. It’s filled with so much raw emotion; its grim storytelling is like the diary of a deeply troubled person marred by life-long tragedy. It feels so cathartic in its rage, but alongside the rage sits feelings of guilt, regret and melancholy that supercharges it into a soul-baring experience. The energy hardly ever relents, but it’s never overbearing. As such, there’s not really a weak track on this album, just different approaches to similar themes. As a body of work, Arson is the band – and genre – at its peak.
There’s so much emotional force and power behind this music that it demands your attention. It’s so frightfully urgent and pained in its performances and lyrics, like a cry for help. The melding of black metal, post metal and rock styles hasn’t been done much better than Harakiri for the Sky do at their best, and this album shows them at their tightest ever. If you were concerned that 2018 would see quality music releases wane in comparison to the banner year that 2017 was for heavy music, fret not. Arson sets fire to your expectation and is a force to be reckoned with. Don’t miss out on this.
Notable Tracks: “Fire, Walk With Me”; “Heroin Waltz”; “Stillborn”
FFO: Numenorean, Ghost Bath, Altar of Plagues