Huntsmen’s debut album, American Scrap, is a little schizophrenic. Of its elements, the songs “Atlantic City” and “The Barren” are the most consistent, and the most worth checking out.
The intro track sounds remarkably like Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, with lush acoustics under a gravelly, plaintive voice. It is a pity it is only one and a half minutes long. The vocals and their melody in the beginning of the next song, “Pyre”, remind one of Lunatic Soul, with acoustic ostinatos repeating and layering underneath them.
Pretty soon, though, we are subjected to a fairly unimaginative breakdown, occasionally interspersed with Black Sabbath-esque harmonies. Then, Huntsmen take us to a classic stoner jam, where the vocals interchange between screaming and something more fitting to classic rock. Despite the quick interchange between different styles, it manages to avoid being jarring; despite not being jarred, though, I was just left confused – the music works, strangely, but my emotional reactions to it struggled to keep up. The next breakdown, the same clichéd riff, and the screams that come with it; all of those elements don’t link up with anything the preceding music has made me feel. “Pyre” spends seven minutes happening to me, but I did not get involved in it. Further examples of styles alternating in such a way can be found on “Atlantic City”, which moves from (very good) stoner to (still good) European folk style vocals.
The aforementioned breakdowns are the standout issue with American Scrap. See “Canary King”, for example. It goes from an interesting verse section with delayed guitars and thumping bass to (yet another) dull, uninspired breakdown. The breakdown to the breakdown (yes, really), with its chromatic falling and climbing bass, is a saving grace, but in all honesty, the last few minutes of the song can be skipped without guilt.
One of the problems with the breakdown parts in American Scrap is that they just are not that heavy. The riffs are, though – they have been tried and tested as such by many bands before Huntsmen, and will be crushing live – but the production lets them down. Everything is overcompressed, the bass production, although deserving of praise for being audible against the guitars, does not hit you, and the guitars seem a little low-energy. Rather, the heavy parts of this album appear to occur when the band is not trying to be heavy – that is, where there are no screams and booming open notes. “Atlantic City” is a prime example: the elegiac vocals counterpoise a driving, rumbling bass line that, especially when it changes under the reverbed-out guitar crescendo, gets you moving far more than any of the breakdowns do. Another excellent moment is when the ostinatos played by acoustics in the intro to “Pyre” get picked up by the bass, which then repeats them under lethargic, droning, tremolo-picked guitars. That section is slow and doom-y, but with prog mixed in, and it’s very, very cool, but the motif is not reused, in favor of giving us those maligned breakdowns.
I do look forwards to listening to Huntsmen’s next album. That’s not to say that this one isn’t worth a listen – the later songs in particular are enjoyable, almost in spite of some that come before. American Scrap does show the promise of some excellent ideas (and excellent bass playing) that ought to be able to come into their own in time. The band just need to lose those elements that add nothing to their sound, and decide whether they want to play progressive stoner rock, or just repeat tired breakdowns.
Notable Tracks: “Atlantic City”; “The Barren”
FFO: Spaceslug, Slabdragger