(DGR wrote this detailed review of the new EP by Finland’s Hanging Garden.)
I will be the first to admit that I absolutely missed the bus on Hanging Garden’s 2015 release Blackout Whiteout. Not only did I miss the bus on last year’s album, while that bus is likely in another state by now, probably delivering the mail in rural counties on its cross-country trip, I have just now reached the bus stop, blissfully unaware the such an event had even taken place and now standing at the bus stop impatiently tapping my foot and staring in the oncoming direction wondering “just when will that goddamned thing get here….”
While I may have missed the bus on Blackout Whiteout, I did not do so with the band’s followup EP Hereafter, thanks in large part due our esteemed editor who has somehow, in between the mountain of premieres and news items he has written about, found a way to send along a note that basically boiled down to, “You need to check this release out. It’s so far in your wheelhouse that it is almost comedic”. Though the edgy, angsty teen rebel in me wants to shout, “You don’t define me! You can’t predict me!”, and go back to wearing all black like all my friends do, I’ve walked the Earth long enough to know when I’ve been pinned down because goddamnit, Hereafter is one of those releases that feels near tailor-made.
Hereafter serves as a followup to the the aforementioned release from last year, Blackout Whiteout, hopefully continuing to set a precedent started by the group’s previous EP I Was A Soldier, following pretty soon after a main album release. Hereafter could be viewed somewhat reductively as Hanging Garden Plus Friends, as nearly all of its five songs include a musical guest, including appearances by Swallow The Sun’s vocalist Mikko Kotamäki, journeyman vocalist Alexander Högbom (although in October Tide mode here, considering Hanging Garden’s genre of choice), and Victor Wegeborn of The Moth Gatherer, as well as the usual vocal crew of Hanging Garden themselves.
Long story short, every track on Hereafter feels different from the others, and that sometimes results in Hanging Garden doing a little bit of a chameleon act — sounding less like themselves and morphing more into the group that’s home to each vocalist who joins them as a guest. Hereafter also feels like an expansion of ideas and themes that Hanging Garden were playing with on Blackout Whiteout, continuations of those that they may have felt hadn’t been fully exercised during last year’s release. Given that the EP is named Hereafter, the idea is almost insinuated in the title, as if the result of a post-mortem where the band realized that they had more to say during certain songs.
As mentioned before, Hanging Garden’s collection of friends for this disc is impressive. Tracks One and Five (“Penumbra” and “Towards The Sun”) feature Mikko Kotamäki operating in two very different modes, with “Towards The Sun” containing a very quiet performance teamed up with the rest of the Hanging Garden crew in its closing. On “Penumbra” (which has a video out for it), Mikko joins the traditional Hanging Garden vocal attack and handles the low-end growls throughout the song, while the band themselves question, “what is purpose behind this life lived, loved, eventually lost?”.
“Penumbra” is something of a faster track than what appears on much of Blackout Whiteout. That album preferred to be very meditative and pensive in its pacing, while “Penumbra” opens things at a relatively high tempo compared to most doom groups of this ilk. It’s a gorgeously layered track that enjoys a great guitar melody to help close things out as the group floats atop some gorgeous singing and some hefty yells. “Towards The Sun” is a moodier track, more in line with much of the colder clean singing that filled the last album. The vocals, as mentioned before, are the highlight of this specific song as the band themselves move away from the spotlight, maintaining a distant and quiet performance, guitar- and drum-wise — allowing the multiple vocalists who appear on “Towards The Sun” to really go for it.
“Sirkle Of Onan”, though, is a fun track in its own right, sounding more like a miserable death metal song in its opening than a doom metal track — with a snarled vocal opening that rules over the first forty seconds of the song, before “Sirkle” shifts into a more recognizably Hanging Garden form for a brief bit. The rotating death metal vocal section and clean-sung bits make “Sirkle” a dynamic track. Although the descriptions of how they bounce between a death metal growl and a calmer and cleaner segment may make the changes seem abrupt, they are as organic as can be.
“Sirkle” is the song that features The Moth Gatherer’s Victor Wegeborn, who teams up with the band in a rotating array of vocals. One among that array who appears on “Sirkle” jumps up and just howls his way through the middle of the song until its closing, which is immensely interesting. That particular performance is very distinct and different from the rest of the vocalists on the disc, who range from gorgeous singers to expert death metal growlers. It sounds like someone just yelling their lungs out in desperation and it’s the voice that actually stuck out with me the most on my first-blush listen to Hereafter as a whole, mostly because it was the sudden moment of, “Whoa, who the hell was that?”.
“Hereafter” itself is actually the calmest track on the disc as a whole. It is basically vocalists and a backing (quiet) drum segment for most of the song, with the occasional ambient guitar work lying on top of it. It puts the spotlight dead-center on the vocals though, and the song itself feels like an expanded version of the opening minutes from “Eclipse” on Blackout Whiteout. So if you’re familiar with that track, “Hereafter” seems like “Eclipse’s” opening few minutes going in a slightly altered and shorter direction.
“Where The Tides Collide” picks up somewhat from the motifs of its preceding song sibling and carries them throughout a moodier track, sounding like the band who built the opening two tracks colliding with the more meditative and pensive version of the group who build up the back half. Alexander Högbom — who is now on his fifth release that I’ve listened to this year — appears around two minutes and thirty-five seconds into the song for a brief growled segment, where he’s the main focus before providing backing growls throughout the rest of the song. He’s in full October Tide mode, so those growls are low and doubled with some painful sounding highs (especially the “Let it go!!!” one throughout the song, holy hell) — serving in sharp contrast with a much prettier combination of male and female singing vocals that Hanging Garden provides.
The most surprising thing about Hereafter is how seamlessly it melds with its sibling releases and also how short it is. It feels like a bookend to an album that was already excellent in its own right. As a collection of single tracks, Hereafter encompasses five very strong songs, and the constant parade of different vocalists really helps to add life to an otherwise purposefully moody experience. In fact, you really aren’t aware just how quickly Hereafter is barreling along toward its conclusion until you hit the final vocal bit on “Towards The Sun”, as that part feels like it was purposefully built to close out a disc.
So, at twenty minutes, Hereafter is a quick affair, and insanely strong songs like “Penumbra” and “Sirkle Of Onan” also make it prone to repeat plays — especially once you get past those two songs and you have the moment of, “Ah well, I’m already halfway done, I could go for another round on this disc”, which just as quickly becomes, “Oh hey, ‘Penumbra’s’ on again! I really like that song!”, and the vicious cycle quickly results in an hour lost. That’s a great feeling. So despite its depressive nature, Hanging Garden’s Hereafter proves to be an exciting listen and one that is absolutely worthy of your time.
Also if you’re an idiot like me and missed out on Blackout Whiteout last year, that disc is fantastic as well.