Haunted Shores – Void Review

Washington, D.C. progressive instrumental duo Haunted Shores returns after a seven-year absence with second full-length, Void. This is the follow-up to 2015 EP, Viscera, and 2011’s self-titled debut album. Haunted Shores members Mark Holcomb and Misha Mansoor are better known as members of Periphery, where both handle guitars and Mansoor is also responsible for programming, synthesizers, orchestration and drums. And once you know that, you can’t unhear Periphery in what the duo turn out. That said, reading about the differences between the two projects, I wondered whether I had found the reason why I have never really got on with Periphery, a band that, on paper, I should like: “In Haunted Shores, when Misha and I push for something, it’s instantly there. We don’t need to discuss two seconds of music between five people like we would have to do in Periphery.” This description of their day job’s writing habits hints very strongly at compromise. So, can the more free-form stylings of Haunted Shores win me over?

Featuring several tracks resurrected and reimagined from earlier output, Void is, for the most part, a whirlwind of technical, progressive extreme metal, mixing elements of death, black and djent. I say ‘for the most part,’ because the band does introduce two synth-driven ambient pieces in “Null” (which is also entirely percussion free) and “Void,” which breaks up the otherwise relentless aggression. Influences are worn openly on Haunted Shores’ sleeves. Apart from the obvious hits of Periphery, the clearest influences are Meshuggah (“Hellfire” and “OnlyFangs”) and, perhaps more surprisingly, Still Life Blackwater Park-era Opeth (“Nocturnal Hours”). Across its run, Void is propelled along by lightspeed, clinically metronomic drumming (programmed by the two members via Mansoor’s own GetGood Drums software). Overlaid onto that, the guitars go in at least three directions, sometimes simultaneously, serving up technical noodling, thudding djenty rhythms and airier Opeth-like riffage.

“OnlyFangs” brings together all these elements of Haunted Shores’ sound in quick-fire succession, as cascading grandiose riffs crash down onto a slightly dissonant valley floor where thunderous Meshuggah guitar lines maraud freely. Technical nerdery rears up only occasionally on “OnlyFangs” but the progressive tones are much more prevalent on the reimagined older material like “When in Oslo,” originally from a 2010 split with Cyclamen, and “Nocturnal Hours.” The latter also features a demented freeform saxophone solo from Shining’s Jørgen Munkeby, which lends the closer a chaotic savagery that works better than the more scripted and calculating über brutality of “Perpetual Windburn.” I would not like to try and guess at the bpm of the drum machine on “Perpetual Windburn” but even Tomas Haake would struggle to keep pace.

The ambient textures of “Null” and “Void” provide much needed breathing room on Void. Perhaps due in part to the lack of vocals, Haunted Shores pack a huge amount into Void’s modest 38-minute run, which looks even more compact when you realize that almost ten of those minutes are gentle atmospheric synth compositions. At times the record feels claustrophobically dense, particularly on “Perpetual Windburn” and “Immaterial.” This is perhaps compounded by the production. It’s not, to be clear, that the sound on show is bad by any stretch, but it feels cold and sterile. On the one hand, this cedes the floor to the technicality of Haunted Shores’ creators, allowing their undoubted musicianship to shine through, but it also makes for a tiring listen.

It’s hard not to be impressed by a lot of what Haunted Shores do. The weight and bludgeoning force of what these two guys turn out is as impressive as the way they handle their instruments. What’s mostly lacking, however, is the emotion. The two tracks that most successfully build in some feeling are the closing duo of the title track and “Nocturnal Hours,” which lean heavily into Opeth. As such Void goes out on a big high and is good throughout but could have been great if Haunted Shores had allowed the songwriting to flow more organically. Rather than separating out the moodier, smoothing textures on “Null” and the title track, these aspects of Haunted Shores’ sound should have been interwoven into the rest of the record.  Holcomb and Mansoor manage this light and dark show on “Nocturnal Hours” and had they done so across the rest of the album, Void would likely have made a more indelible mark.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: 3Dot Recordings
Websites: hauntedshores.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hauntedshoresofficial
Releases Worldwide: March 11th, 2022

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