Haunter – Discarnate Ails Review

I first heard of San Antonio’s Haunter during my brief stint in the Discord server. The discordant blackened death of 2019’s Sacramental Death Qualia caught my ears immediately. It struck the difficult balance of exploring tortuous harmonies and building an unsettling atmosphere while keeping me rapt. Dissonance tends to alienate me more often than it attracts me, but Haunter occupies a thin middle ground of bands like Ulcerate and Sunless that inject a digestible dose of dissonance while still supplying compelling melodies to latch onto. I was excited to nab their third full-length Discarnate Ails from the promo pit, hoping it could scratch this same itch.

Haunter specializes in a claustrophobic brand of progressive blackened death metal. Parts of Discarnate Ails rely on the simplest of black metal tremolo riffs, most notably on “Chained at the Helm of the Eschaton.” But most of the album embraces off-kilter riffs and grating chords that would fit well on a Suffering Hour record. Haunter tops this off with twin guitar melodies and solos that twist around riffs and squirm from ear to ear, evoking the disconcerting psychedelia of Oranssi Pazuzu. Discarnate Ails combines these pieces in spastic fashion, with its three songs darting without warning between different melodies, time signatures, and subgenres.

Haunter’s ideas are a qualified success, hitting hardest when they layer terrifying melodies into a soundscape. One highlight is the middle of opener “Overgrown with the Moss,” which lays out abrasive riffs before introducing variations and chaotic leads over them, creating an overpowering atmosphere. These ideas flourish when Haunter gives them time and space to develop organically. The stellar beginning of “Spiritual Illness,” for example, throws down a powerful blackened riff and patiently uses it as a home base to branch off into adjacent melodies and a hypnotic guitar lead. Not all of Discarnate Ails impresses to the same extent, as “Overgrown” and “Chained” have long digressions into forgettable standard-fare black metal and dissonant sections that fail to stay interesting. Simplicity can be admirable, but it isn’t Haunter’s strong suit.

The construction of Discarnate Ails is an equally mixed bag. The most glaring problem is Haunter’s affinity for abrupt transitions, with the album frequently introducing new sections without bothering to bridge gaps or bring melodies to natural conclusions. In addition to making Discarnate Ails feel jerky, this compounds its issues of inconsistency; when Haunter snuffs out musical ideas in their infancy, they lose their chance to get fleshed out and grab my interest. Still, the pieces of Haunter’s puzzle do often fit together swimmingly. “Spiritual Illness” nails this, with a beautiful well-developed opening that later makes a powerful return to lead into a triumphant death metal conclusion. Spinning Discarnate Ails several times also clued me into the album’s satisfying Easter eggs, like the way “Chained” weaves in variants of its two beginning riffs throughout its 14 minutes, and the similarity between the stomping outro of “Spiritual Illness” and the soft conclusion of “Chained.” The album would fare better if Haunter applied this painstaking approach to songwriting throughout.

Discarnate Ails is a difficult listen, but a worthy one nonetheless. While it took several spins to sink in, its highlights reveal a band that knows how to compose gnarled melodies, entwine them together, and keep your attention while doing so. Despite its daunting song lengths, the record stands at a manageable 32 minutes and makes a lot of those minutes count. But swaths of the album feel underdeveloped and Scotch-taped together hastily. Haunter would do well to play to their strengths and put more care into writing smooth transitions. Color me excited to hear them try.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Profound Lore Records
Websites: hauntertx.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hauntertx
Releases Worldwide: May 6th, 2022

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