Melbourne’s Hadal Maw made waves in the Australian metal scene with their Senium debut in 2014. Although the album exhibited the band’s considerable potential through a frenetic blast of noisy tech-death, the compositions and production left ample room for improvement. Now the better part of three years later, following a change in vocalist, Hadal Maw return hell-bent on capitalizing on momentum established through their well-received debut and relentless touring. Shedding much of the technical death bluster from Senium, Hadal Maw have drastically retooled their sound for sophomore album, Olm. The speedier and more chaotic nature of the debut has been scaled back and remolded in favor of a hybridized vision of groove-centric modern death and atmospheric tech-metal. Significant stylistic shifts are often risky propositions fraught with danger, evidenced on the recently lambasted Aborym abomination. So how do these bright Aussie upstarts fare in their new guise?
Drawing influence from heavyweight acts Meshuggah and Gojira, Hadal Maw sound leaner, meaner and tighter than before, coming off confidently driven and energized in their new skin. Opener “Leviathan” kicks in with its ambient textures, mechanized drumming and off-kilter harmonies giving the listener an immediate glimpse into the darker territories Hadal Maw inhabit on Olm. Over a dense 46 minutes Hadal Maw keep the grooves rolling within accessible yet unpredictable song structures. These are built around chunky and dissonant guitar work, thunderous percussion and the occasional foray into quieter passages of introspection and ambient instrumentation, evidenced during the back-end of the energized “Failed Harvest.” New vocalist Sam Dillon plies his trade effectively enough, with his passionate raw throat delivery recalling a more strained Randy Blythe with a touch of Jens Kidman.
Despite the stylistic shifts undertaken, musically Hadal Maw continue crafting complex songs boasting excellent musicianship and interesting guitar work that treads a fine line of technicality, experimentation and groove. And when Hadal Maw free the beast and fuse their new formula with memorable songwriting and rugged hooks, this shit gets pretty damn entertaining. Case in point is the short, punchy burst of groovy dissonance and deathly hues emanating from the stop-start rhythmic bluster of the excellent “Witch Doctor,” or the deft mix of aggro groove, tech and thrashy death on “False King.” Later cuts “Simian Plague” and “Germinate” solidify the album’s strengths. The latter in particular hearkens back to their tech-death roots and takes some interesting twists without sacrificing cohesion. While Hadal Maw do occasionally go into navel gazing mode and show off their more sensitive side, they never let this aspect become too domineering or distracting in ways that could easily halt Olm’s stuttering momentum. They know how to keep things compact when required, as the blistering sub-two minute salvo of “Hyena,” complete with nifty guitar solo, attests.
Not all of the songs hit with the same potency of the stronger cuts, with a samey [Report to HR. – Steel Druhm] feel creeping in from time to time, while overall the material mostly lands around the solid range of the quality meter. Still, Hadal Maw adroitly navigate their way beyond the more derivative elements of their sound and potentially djenty leanings, largely through their aggressive, calculated delivery and unpredictable songwriting. Certainly there’s plenty of room for further growth and improvement, but the lads are on the right track. Hopefully as the band further consolidate and evolve their sound, they can plug the gap between Olm’s strengths and weaknesses on their next release. The recording leaves an intentionally claustrophobic sonic imprint and though dynamically I would like to hear more breathing space and natural sounding drums, generally the tones and in-your-face crunch fits the album’s bleak mechanical vibe well.
Hadal Maw is a gifted band on the rise and Olm marks an interesting chapter in their budding career. With some fine-tuning and a more schizophrenic attack, I could imagine this newfound vision potentially occupying similar terrain to the excellent Ion Dissonance. Olm remains an intriguing creative left turn from Hadal Maw that’s consistently solid and interesting, yet feels like a transitional album and stepping stone towards greater things. Until then Olm is well worth checking out and I’m certainly looking forward to hearing what the boys cook up next.