(Andy Synn returns to the fray after a hectic week with a review of the upcoming new album from Hatalom)
With so many albums, EPs, and other releases coming out, in an almost unending flood of new music (not that I’m complaining, mind you) it can be easy to lose track of what’s going on. And with so many bands forming, reforming, going on hiatus, and making a comeback, it’s also hard to know everyone’s status and when (if ever) to expect new material.
Thankfully, as a part-time, semi-professional writer/reviewer/critic (delete as appropriate) I’m generally able to keep one eye open, and one ear to the ground (though not necessarily at the same time) for news and updates about artists we’ve covered here before, which is why I’ve been carefully tracking the writing, recording, and release schedule of Occhiolism, the debut full-length from Canadian Tech-Death crew Hatalom, ever since its nascent existence was first made public.
And with the album set to hit the streets (and the net) tomorrow, now is probably a good time to check out my review of their first EP, Of Sorrow and Human Dust, from 2018, as not only does it provide a useful primer as to what, in general terms, to expect from the band, but it also provides some key context for all the ways in which the band have developed since… something which I’ll say more about after the jump.
One thing that quickly stands out about Occhiolism is how many simple, but smart, choices the band clearly made when putting it together.
For one thing the entire record is just under twenty minutes longer than …Human Dust, suggesting that the band have clearly recognised, and played to, their own strengths by keeping things tight and focussed on the key, core aspects which define their sound rather than given in to the obvious temptation of trying to overstuff the album with as much music and as many ideas (good, bad, or otherwise) as possible.
But the idea of “playing to their strengths” doesn’t mean that the band have simply reproduced the sound of their debut EP – which drew comparisons, including from the band themselves, to other, similarly shred-tastic death-dealers such as Decrepit Birth, Soreption, and Beneath the Massacre – more that they’ve built and expanded upon what was already there, particularly in the increasingly melody-driven nature of the music.
This, of course, isn’t an entirely new feature (I said at the time that “although it’s clearly not a primary focus for the band, its presence is certainly felt – and welcome”) nor does it indicate that the band have gone soft, sold out, or otherwise abandoned their roots, but it’s definitely another smart move on their part, as it allows them to side-step the self-defeating arms race of faster/techier/more extreme that consumes so much of the global Tech Death scene in favour of just writing a series of extremely expressive, surprisingly immersive, songs instead.
From the beginning, whether it’s the nimble melodic fretwork and infectious forward momentum of “Altered Reality” or the punchy rhythms and proggy embellishments of “The Depths of Consciousness”, it’s clear that Hatalom are fully aware that technical skill is no substitute for good songwriting, and the decision to give their music more room to breathe this time around (four out of the eight songs here are longer than the longest track on …Human Dust) means that the flow of the tracks, both internally and from one to the next, feels surprisingly organic and natural.
The album’s longest song, “Evolutionary Knowledge”, for example, takes full advantage of its extended run-time to incorporate a variety of different approaches – moving from rapid-fire riffs to soaring lead guitar work, juxtaposing moments of soothing calm versus convulsions of calculated chaos – without feeling rushed or unfocussed, while the subtle synth embellishments and elegant, expressive leads in “Negentropy” just add an extra touch of proggy class without being too overt or overblown about it, and actually seem to exist to serve the overall story, rather than simply as an opportunity to show off.
Now you may have noticed that I’ve actually not said much about the explicitly “technical” aspects of the band’s sound – and there’s a reason for that. For while the group’s impressive instrumental abilities are obvious and unquestionable (bassist Seb Verret’s performance in particular is an understated, but undeniable, highlight), it’s the more melodious, bordering on “atmospheric”, nature of the music, the multi-layered melodic interplay between the various parts (as opposed to simply the parts themselves), which ultimately makes this record work.
I’ll grant you that Occhiolism isn’t wholly original – songs like “Expansion” and “Stellar Dreams”, which together make up the album’s mid-section, position the album as an almost-explicit extension of the proggy Tech Death cosmology of Decrepit Birth’s outstanding Polarity (which is no bad thing) – but, then, it’s still pretty early days for Hatalom, and the group’s increasingly melodic, subtly progressive, sensibilities do go a fair way towards setting them apart from the majority of their peers, and it seems to me that the band are well on their way to carving out a neat little niche for themselves within the endlessly evolving, highly competitive, landscape of the Tech Death scene.