Sadist have been under the weather for quite some time. Once a respectable prog-death act, they did that thing that metal bands did in the ’90s a tad late and released the awful nu-metal Lego in 2000 to critical and fan disgust, after which they took a seven-year break. The albums that followed, Sadist and the cheesy Seasons in Silence, had their ups and downs but haven’t aged nearly as well as the band’s ’90s output. Hyaena is the band’s chance to finally get back on track after fifteen years of waiting and uncertain footing.
Hyaena might not be a, ahem, roaring success, but does prove much better than expected. Cheezy synths and hackish melodeath have been stripped from the mix in favor of bubbly bass and heavy riffs that borrow heavily from ’90s prog-death, whether that be Atheist, Cynic, or Death. Introducing “The Lonely Mountain” is a riff straight from Individual Thought Patterns followed up by a groove that screams Unquestionable Presence, and the album only gets more referential from there. “Pachycrocuta” (add 1/2 point for reference of extinct taxa) sees the band sinking further down into the pits of anachronistic brutality, but “Bouki” livens up the album with an almost Dream Theater-ish synth line and the album’s strongest melody. Tommy Talamanca really gives the song his all, sounding like a late-era Schuldiner trying to pass a hyrax, and I mean that in the best possible way. His voice is unmistakably grating and full of energy, cutting through the riffage with the ease of a hippo tusk fenestrating some tourist’s chest cavity.
Though the first half of Hyaena makes for a strong comeback, the later songs keep the momentum and carry the album through what I really expected to be a precipitous decline in quality. “Eternal Enemies” and “African Devourers” are energetic and fun and serve to cover up the boring “Scratching Rocks.” However, the back half’s real gem is “Genital Mask,” which I say partially because of its engaging percussion, and partially because you get to hear Trevor Nadir scream “GEN-I-TAAAAAAAAL” a pleasing number of times.
Despite its surprising quality, Hyaena does come with its share of problems and idiosyncrasies. Foremost, the drums sound awful. Not Bloodtruth awful as in very heavily replaced, but definitely overcompressed, which hurts the material. Hyaena is quite a bit dirtier sounding than Seasons in Silence, but the band can’t quite let go of that perky synth tone, which will surely turn away some listeners. The biggest problem with this album, however, is that it just feels a bit cheap, largely due to its theme. Without getting into the politics of oppression and exploitation, an Italian band making an album about ‘Africa’ – you know, the world’s second largest continent – seems out of place and unfocused to the detriment of their subject matter.
That being said, the complaints here are minor, especially when put into the perspective of death metal as a whole. Hyaena is exactly what the band needed to win back attention from metalheads everywhere and shouldn’t be missed by anyone who considers themselves a fan of ’90s, or even modern, prog death.