Hyborian – Vol. II Review

Hyborian first bored into my consciousness with their single, “Head and the Sword,” an absolutely killer song1 that showcased a suave combination of sludge, stoner, and prog influences. To this day it remains one of my favorite songs, and it paved the way to their debut album, Vol. I, which took that single and pushed the style into heavier territory, most notably with the vocals. Comparisons are for the lazy amongst us, and that includes me, so let me put forth that there is definitely influence from early Baroness and Mastodon buried in these riffy songs, along with no small dose of High on Fire. Additionally, singer/guitarist Martin Bush thinks of his band as a proggier Mötörhead. Okay, that works too.

The songs on Vol. II are built around the almighty riff – or should I say riffs? In most cases, these tracks do not end on the same road they started. Most often, when one thinks the song might be over, a fresh riff enters the fray and carries us for another minute or two. That might sound wasteful if it wasn’t for the fact that all the riffs are damned fine. “Driven by Hunger” perfectly exemplifies this trait, with a jagged and punchy riff leading the way for four minutes before ceding to a buildup of a winding, NWOBHM-inspired lead to close out the track. Very cool, but not the coolest aspect of this and other songs here. That would be the intricacy surrounding the vocals. Bush and his co-guitarist, Ryan Bates,2 share vocal duties, often counter to each other in unexpected ways. My first thought when listening carefully to the interwoven vocals and staggered guitars was “I wonder if they can pull this off live.”

Further examples of awesomeness abound. “The Entity” is loaded with earworm rhythm guitar work and a classic solo while the excellent “Planet Destructor” is monstrous thrash track with Hyborian’s grooviest chorus since “Head and the Sword.” Bush, Bates, and drummer Justin Rippeto pull out all the stops on the eight-minute closing cut, “In the Hall of the Travellers.” Hammer-ons and pull-offs are tossed at us wantonly until the midpoint, when a rather pensive, exhausted riff leads us gently to the end, where we once again hear the same sinister voiceover we heard in Vol. I’s “Blood for Blood.” I presume this is the voice of The Traveller, who is the lead character of this trilogy of albums. Vol. I was stories from the beginning of time, while Vol. II takes place during the end days of the universe.3 Kind of appropriate right now.

A record this loud and energetic needs to be produced appropriately, and Josh Barber does a great job. This is a meaty, chunky album that really highlights the band’s riff-centered songwriting style while also letting Hyborian’s enthusiasm run unfettered through the performances. As the group has evolved and the songs have become heavier, the vocals have gotten more gruff, which may be my only nitpick here. I do miss the suave stoner rock style of singing that was more predominant on earlier work, and would have loved to hear more variance in that regard on Vol. II. A minor quibble, though, as the vocals do not at all detract from the material.

Hyborian hit us hard and often on Vol. II, displaying dexterity and aggressiveness in a tight, progressive yet groovy package. The album may only be 41 minutes long, but the energy displayed makes it an exhausting yet rewarding listen. Showing definite growth and evolution through their first singles up to this point, Hyborian manage to plant themselves in the upper echelon of bands I’m keeping my eye on. Vol. III is shaping up to be one helluva ride.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 1411 kbps WAV
Label: Season of Mist
Websites: hyborianrock.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/HyborianRock
Releases Worldwide: March 20th, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. And free on Bandcamp!
  2. Who also played bass on the album.
  3. Bush actually wrote a novel that these albums are based on, entitled The Traveller: A Hyborian Tale.
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