So Hideous occupy an interesting niche for me. As a post-black group with orchestral flourishes, their sound is unique enough to stand out in an over-saturated genre, but it’s never been compelling enough to make me a fan. First hearing of them via MetalSucks with their To Clasp a Fallen Wish with Broken Fingers EP back in 2011, the band – then called So Hideous, My Love… – initially intrigued me with their rapid waltzy riffing, diaphragm-straining shrieks, and bombastic backing strings. I later forgot about that EP altogether, and even after they dropped “My Love” from their name and released debut full-length Last Poem/First Light in 2013, it wasn’t enough to warrant any more than a shrug and a couple listens on Spotify. While that album was better than To Clasp and earned the quartet some scattered acclaim, it still failed to win me over in the wake of Sunbather and a myriad of other post-black records around that time. With sophomore effort Laurestine, will these New York City boys finally shine?
In short, no. On Laurestine, So Hideous have essentially given the world what no one asked for: Deafheaven with a backing orchestra. The basic structure, as exemplified on seven-minute opener “Yesteryear,” is the same: post-rock intros and interludes punctuated by violent upheavals of blackened buzzing, joined by echoing, super-raspy shrieks and – in this case – string and piano embellishments. Admittedly, I love Deafheaven and was initially overwhelmed by the sheer melodrama of “Yesteryear,” which sounded like Virgin Black infused with Woods of Desolation. Further listens, however, revealed a debilitating issue, one that also permeates the rest of the album: just like with Fleshgod Apocalypse on Agony, the classical music has ceased to be a flourish and has flooded out the guitars altogether.
Track titles are unnecessary – pick any song other than classical instrumental “Hereafter” and you’re left with cinematic, larger-than-life strings underlaid by guitars whose sole contribution is a staticy, atmospheric fuzz. There aren’t “riffs” on this album, just texture, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the songwriting was good or the music generated an interesting mood. Sadly, neither is the case. Take aforementioned “Hereafter,” which follows “Yesteryear” as a dark, urgent post-rock piece, building and building into… a serene piano-led outro. You can practically hear the fizzle. Only early highlight “Relinquish” bucks this trend, with a sweeping buildup and a soaring orchestral finish that contains some of the record’s only semi-memorable melodies. In fact, after this track – and I hate it when reviewers say this, but it’s so true in this case that I can’t avoid it – I couldn’t differentiate between any of the remaining four songs, even after multiple listens.
Sure, the music is superficially pretty and dramatic, but that’s just the issue: paradoxically, by always straining for as much drama as possible, as if the world is crashing around you and your lover is slipping from your fingers off a seaside cliff, there’s no emotion whatsoever – just sentimentality taken to its most extreme. The effect is something like watching a montage of the endings of several Oscar-winning films you’ve never seen before. You can tell it’s tailored for an emotional reaction, but the meat of it all – in this case, the riffs and compelling songwriting – is noticeably absent. The arbitrary ambient sections don’t help, nor do the vocals – frankly, it sounds like vocalist Christopher Cruz added a bunch of reverb to the world’s most painful 40-minute vomiting session, with a ceaseless tendency to draw out the final syllable of each and every unintelligible word.
Laurestine isn’t terrible, honestly, it’s not even bad – it’s just not engaging in the slightest. Credit where credit’s due – the cymbals are splashy and vibrant, the drums are appropriately thunderous and dynamically performed, the range retains some depth, and the classical elements offer skin-deep prettiness (and were recorded with an actual orchestra) – but on the whole, in a effort to achieve sky-high dreaminess, So Hideous have crafted a record with as much substance as a cirrus cloud. Post-black/shoegaze devotees may enjoy this more than I did, but I can’t imagine any metalhead who’s honest with himself will want to welcome Laurestine as a permanent addition to his library.