In Human Form has me trapped in a corner. In addition to being a mouthful, Opening of the Eye by the Death of the I has seen my prosaic muse torn to pieces. I doubt this current dry spell stems from a lack of comprehension, but I pray nonetheless for a moment of clarity to absolve this torment. An undertaking this ambitious and idiosyncratic surely has a story to tell, but my thoughts are born dead, the empty words of an overactive imagination. Binding this cosmic sea of individual thought patterns together as one neatly wrapped summation would be difficult even without judgment. Nailing down a numerical conclusion on IHF‘s sophomore entry may be just as hard as getting pen to paper.
“Progressive” is not a strong enough descriptor for IHF. While Obsidian Tongue, Infera Bruo, and other peers in the New England black metal circuit channeled typical outfits like Agalloch, Enslaved, and Wolves in the Throne Room, IHF draw from jazz, doom, thrash, and everything in between. WitTR and Agalloch do make an appearance, however, through IHF‘s long-form approach. Opening (OotEbtDotI?) sees its three main tracks all exceed 14 minutes. The length only increases this review’s difficulty, let alone its saxophone diversions and high-minded compositions. Sometimes the damned thing verges on exiting metal altogether. I’m reminded of Dr. A.N. Grier‘s troubles pinning down Igo(ööaaa)rrr, though Opening sounds like glam metal compared to that cacophonous monstrosity.
“All Is Occulted by Swathes of Ego” opens on a ploddy death/doom riff that morphs into post-inspired trills before a tempered carnival atmosphere tilts the track sideways. At times, the developments conjure what black metal might sound like if Chuck Schuldiner slapped some Oreo-themed face paint on his off-kilter progressions, took downers, and tried to play Between the Buried and Me at one-quarter speed. When a raucous build finally sets fire to the meandering tempo, it’s a welcome sight. IHF borrow from black metals French, frigid, and folky, nodding to traditionalists even as it incorporates its bag of tricks into the fray.
IHF‘s focus on diversity might seem like a strength at first. But in truth the directions that stand out are often more straightforward, instead relying on an interesting beat or a splash of dissonance to bolster it. For instance, those death/doom bookends from “All Is Occulted” sound more like Raise the Black than Katatonia and fall completely flat. Even on the two stronger tracks, the material runs hot and cold across the mammoth run times. At its best, the mutating collective of jazz, prog, black and melody and eccentricity finds a way to work by blending those many components into a palatable offering. When that mix sours, the constant shuffling bogs Opening down. IHF‘s brand of dartboard metal might appeal to the progressive crowd, but it makes for a disjointed listening experience in this venue.
Thankfully the strength of IHF‘s blackened runs keeps the album afloat, breaking up the array of musical knick-knacks and baubles. These successes pockmark Opening, ranging from the aforementioned fifty shades of black to the inquisitive riffs of “Zenith Thesis, Abbadon Hypothesis.” They achieve a surprising level of harmony that holds together layers of psychotic babbling and Richard Dixon’s roiling skin battering. “Through an Obstructionist’s Eye” handles its death/doom far better than “All Is Occulted,” improving on both the riff and its length. The track is most conventionally black metal of the bunch, but that doesn’t stop Dixon from eschewing classic blasts for a wide selection of secondary choices atypical of the genre. His performance stands out as my favorite, though Nick Clark (Sign of the Goat) deserves serious recognition for crafting the expansive riff-work on the album. Clark also handled the production, and while IHF‘s flecks of aggression could use more punch, he serviced Opening‘s progressive side capably.
With Shalin Shah (Protolith) and Dave Kaminsky (Stone Healer, ex-Autolatry) joining the fray, there’s no reason to expect Opening is anywhere close to IHF‘s peak. As you might suspect from the back-and-forth nature of this review, I’m very torn on the music at hand. While I may be down on the quality of this album — at least relative to my peers — I am still bullish on In Human Form‘s prospects going forward. With I, Voidhanger scooping them up for a full release, I expect they haven’t finished bending reviewers into knots yet.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: i-voidhangerrecords.bandcamp.com | I, Voidhanger Records
Websites: inhumanformlowell.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/inhumanformihf555
Releases Worldwide: June 23rd, 2017