As this site’s self-appointed Angry Metal Bottom Feeder, I take it upon myself to devour all the metalcore, post-black metal, and trendy bullshit that I suspect my more evolved brethren often don’t want to touch. I guess part of me still has fond memories of older albums in these genres and continues to hold out hope that new releases will be just as good. While this means filtering through a lot of mediocrity, occasionally I’ll stumble upon a gem that makes it all worth it. Unfortunately last year’s Seagrave debut was not one of those gems. However, it did lead me to discover Austrian post-black duo Harakiri for the Sky, in which Seagrave’s J.J. serves as the vocalist and lyricist alongside multi-instrumentalist Matthias Sollak (or ‘M.S.’ here). Unlike the shoegazey drivel that occasionally hinders the genre, Harakiri’s sophomore record Aokigahara was keenly focused on delivering sharp, blissful melodies over music that never got too wishy-washy or teetered into melodrama. The result was one of 2014’s most exciting post-black records, and primed my anticipation for new full length III: Trauma.
And fortunately, Trauma is a more than worthy successor to Aokigahara. Stylistically, not much has changed: through these 8 tracks, Harakiri continues to deliver a pristine, riffy, dynamic, and hyper-melodic collision of post-rock and black metal that places genuine musical substance and quality songwriting over sappy atmospherics and pretentious concepts. Imagine Alcest but more extreme and less sentimental, Austere but more melodic and less bleak, or Deafheaven but more consistent and less Pitchfork fellatio. First single (and current Song o’ the Year contender) “Funeral Dreams” nails it early, beginning with an explosion of fluttery Insomnium-esque melodies over rapid double-bass drumming, moving into a chunky mid-paced riff that’s later underlaid by subtle piano, and finally introducing a gorgeous lead that literally made me blurt out “Oh my fucking God” the first two times I heard it.
While J.J. continues to deliver surprisingly poetic, depressing lyrics via his intelligible, mid-register rasp (and hits some great lines like ‘Fuck this life!’ in opener “Calling the Rain”), it’s Sollak’s superb guitar-work and songwriting that really makes Trauma a win. Aforementioned “Calling” begins with glassy clean picking before layering redemptive, ‘all-is-forgiven’ harmonies over a reflective tempo, moving into Daylight Dies riffing and peppier rhythms in the second half. From the lazy floating leads of late highlight “Viaticum,” the tapped open notes of closer “Bury Me,” the triumphant final return of the flagship riff in “Dry the River,” to the moonlit Swallow the Sun-esque melodies in “The Traces We Leave,” each song here is distinct, emotional, and typically contains at least one memorable highlight. Sollak knows just the right time to mellow out with sunbeam post-rock interludes, step up the tempo with rainstorm blasts and lively beats, revisit and re-invent prior ideas, or incorporate odd twists like the rich clean singing of guest vocalist Davide Straccione (Zippo) in “Thanatos.”
Though no track comes in under 8 minutes, the excellent arrangements prevent them from feeling overlong. This does, however, lead to a 75 minute runtime, which – while not a flaw in itself – means at least one potty break is to be expected, and reinforces that more variety wouldn’t have been unwelcome. In the future, I’d love to see Harakiri incorporate more adventurous guitar-work or expand on ideas like the piano embellishments of aforementioned “Traces” and the clean vocals in “Thanatos.” And though the production’s excellent mix provides a great soundstage for the smooth faraway leads, crystal sharp riffs, and thumpy rocking drums, it’s also so squeaky clean I half expected the band photo to feature a bald man in a white T-shirt giving me the thumbs up.
Still, the clear production fits the music’s pristine feel, and it’s one of the few complaints I have in an otherwise great record. With enough good ideas to fill the next three Alcest albums, Trauma is a tightly performed, mesmerizing tapestry of fantastic leads, wretched vocals, and drumming that moves deftly between crackling transitions and smashing buildups. This is the type of record that shows just how far the genre has come since Diadem of 12 Stars just ten years ago, and serves as 2016’s most compelling argument for why post-black metal is so much more than a throwaway gaggle of Burzum-worshipping hippies. In short, this is New Bermuda done fucking right.