Nope, this isn’t a prank. Haunt are back with another full-length, not even a year after the last record. And the previous one came out not even a year after the one before it! If you’re good at counting, that means Burst into Flame, If Icarus Could Fly, and this year’s Mind Freeze have all descended on this wretched planet in less than seventeen fucking months. Vardan and Chris Black are the only ones that would take that as a challenge. Yet, as simple as their style of ’80s NWoBHM is, it’s not like fans have to absorb much from one Haunt record to the next. But the fear of too-much-too-soon lingers. With repeat listens, If Icarus Could Fly didn’t quite live up to Burst into Flame. That leaves a big question mark for this year’s Mind Freeze. Will this new album continue the gentle decent? Or is Mind Freeze Haunt‘s Master of Puppets? You’ll have to see what happens next!
Regardless of how it all pans out in the next 937 words of this review, Mind Freeze is no different than its two predecessors. You can still expect the same old-school riffs and song structures, as well as the addictive, free-flowing vocal arrangements. Take opener “Light the Beacon,” for example. It has those soothing, melodic qualities that blend with the vocals like a chocolate-peanut butter shake. Toss in some period-specific NWoBHM guitar solos and an addictive chorus, and you’ve got the making of another solid outing from the band. What you won’t expect this time around are the heavy organ work and the mix. The organs and synths weave throughout the record, ranging from Deep Purpleisms to an NWoBHM soundtrack to The Thing. While the organs are a nice subtle touch, the drums are anything but nice or subtle. The snare is so far up front in the mix that the riffs almost drown in it. That said, there’re plenty of positives to outweigh the negatives.
Like the opener, “Light the Beacon,” the title track is a catchy, little ditty whose chorus will be stuck in your head for weeks. Not only that but the song is home to some of the best leads and the most vocal diversity on the record. Taking the passion, melodics, and spontaneity of these two tracks, Haunt up the ante with “Divide and Conquer” and “Saviors of Man.” These tracks are back-to-back numbers that give a one-two(-three) punch alongside “Mind Freeze.” The former is a fast-paced piece that catches your breath with a slow, synthy interlude that makes the succeeding, bulldozer riff that much more effective. The latter leans on the keys hard, at times reminding me of a Dark Tranquillity-like essence.
On the flipside, “Hearts of Fire” is a fast-paced behemoth, coming at you like a deranged spider monkey. This thing is a goddamn frenzy of riffs, solos, asses, and elbows. Situated between the opener and “Mind Freeze,” this number is the biggest WTF moment of the album. Unfortunately, there always exists a negative spectrum of what-the-fuck moments to any album. And, in it, we have closer “Voyager” and quick-paced “Fight or Flight.” Like the other Haunt releases, the closer is another member of the team whose only difference is there’s no batter on deck. “Voyager” is slow to get moving but it’s not a bad piece. I just don’t know why “Voyager,” over all the others, is the album’s conclusion. “Fight or Flight,” though, is every bit as addictive in the chorus as “Mind Freeze” and “Light the Beacon.” But in an annoying kinda way. This one will get stuck in your head for all the wrong reasons.
Minus the loud drum mix, Mind Freeze‘s biggest flaw is that all the best tracks come at the beginning—giving the album a fulcrum in which to teeter between the two halves. “Have No Fear” and “On the Stage” fight to keep the momentum going but the silly “Fight or Flight” and lackluster “Voyager” clip their wings. That said, “Mind Freeze,” “Divide and Conquer,” and “Light the Beacon” are a few of my favorite Haunt songs to date. So, none of the bad diminishes all the good of Mind Freeze. When you take it all together, this new outing is as good as its predecessors. Which means, three strong albums in less than three years is rather impressive.