When John Haughm dissolved Agalloch earlier this year it left a giant gaping hole. Their natural, organic take on black metal was a vibrant breath of fresh air in the often stagnant genre. In the wake of the band’s demise, acts from across the world are tossing their home-grown influences in hopes of achieving the same level of influence. England’s Hryre crafted nine hymns rooted in their country’s politics, heritage, and the need to individualize in the form of their ambitious debut, From Mortality to Infinity. How successful are these visionaries?
After a minute-long whoosh provided by the honestly unnecessary “Inauguration,” an impressive fill by drummer Gareth Hodgson kicks off “Devastation of Empires” in earnest. The bio sheet that accompanies From Mortality compares Hryre to Fen, Winterfylleth, and Emperor, and I can hear where the first two inspire the band. It also reminds me of early Primordial in parts. The riffing by Nathan Patchett and Rick Millington is tight and blistering, and Millington’s screams and growls are performed quite well. There’s a bit of a blackened groove at 1:46, followed by a savage tremolo melody at 2:06. At 3:33, the song slows down, and a somber melody wafts through the ether, giving the song a good doom feel. Another ominous dirge-and-purge riff towards the end, and I’m left impressed.
If the rest of the album could just hold up to that standard, we would have a beast on our hands. Sadly, Hryre suffer from what I call Newbanditis™1. In other words, they’re ambitious and hungry, but with all their ambient whooshes, impressive drum fills, and spoken word pieces, they forgot to craft compelling songs. “Plagues of Ancient Graves” nails the atmosphere musically, but their constant repeating of the title track near the end wore me out. Elsewhere, the beautiful “Cast into Shade Part One (Farewell)” has serene acoustic guitars, sweeping violin melodies, humming background chants, and some of the tritest spoken word poetry I’ve ever heard. Its follow-up, “Cast into Shade Part Two (Black Sun),” plods for fourteen unforgiving minutes. Only closer “Return to the Earth” salvages any saving grace left on the album, with a closing riff that’s both catchy and memorable.
Sound-wise, From Mortality to Infinity bounces all over the place dynamically, sounding rich and full with “Cast into Shade Part Two (Black Sun)” (DR10), and squashed and muddled in the ironically-titled “Lamenting the Coming Dread” (DR4). The guitars smother when they go into tremolo mode, muffling the bass. The drums possess that awesome wet-cardboard sound as well. But the biggest crime of all is, once again, found in the songwriting. I’m all for experiencing one’s heritage musically, but I must be captivated while doing so. By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, there is nothing on here that even comes close to reminding one of Emperor.
Freethinkers should be heard, authority should be questioned, and everyone should experience nature at least once. While Hryre are noble in their intent to free one’s mind, From Mortality to Infinity falls woefully short of the mark. Nature calls, but sometimes it’s best left for the trees to hear. Disappointing.