Hymn – Breach Us Review

Back in the early aughts there was much hand wringing over the death of the long-form album. With the easy proliferation of individual mp3s through both legitimate (iTunes) and nefarious (Napster) means, many veteran musicians and industry vets decried a coming paradigm of singles-only consumption and the end of serious album craft. But while it’s certainly easier twenty years later to compile a killer playlist, the album is still very much alive. Even Beyoncé, arguably the biggest contemporary pop star, has recently used filmmaking to elevate the album over the single in a genre that historically favored the opposite. Artists like making albums, and we like listening to them. It takes as many deliberate choices to compose a good album as it does a good song, and sites like this exist to pick apart those choices. Take Breach Us, the second full-length from Norwegian duo Hymn. You can practically see the gears turning as a talented band with good material makes logical choices for the sake of album composition that somehow work against them in the end.

The core of Hymn’s sound is sludge doom, but with the intensity turned up to 11. There are riffs and enviable guitar tone enough to check the usual genre boxes, but the forceful drumming of Markus Støle and the vein-popping delivery of vocalist/guitarist Ole Ulvik Rokseth conjure the image of Thou as interpreted by 90s hardcore stalwarts Snapcase. This brazen aggression spills in waves from the opening title track and advanced single “Exit Through Fire.” It also bubbles up on occasion over the last two tracks, but there’s a distinct turn toward a slower pace in the album’s second half, starting with “Crimson.” This takes Hymn into more conventional sludge doom territory that, while generally executed well, still comes off as ponderous. We’ll get to that presently.

It’s hard to overstate how much I’m enamored by the first half of this album. As a long time sludge fan who also loves the doomed arts, I have far more tolerance for run-of-the-mill Iommi-worshiping riff merchants than most, but that doesn’t stop me from perking up when I detect traces of old school hardcore — half of sludge’s parentage—in a band’s sound. There are few reasonably labeled as doom that rage with the same unrestrained belligerence as Hymn on these two tracks. It’s easy to picture a small, filthy music venue packed to the rafters going absolutely bananas to these songs played live. The riffs are ace and the drumming propulsive on both, but the subtly melodic guitar line that anchors “Breach Us” and the slow unravelling of “Exit Through Fire” into caveman chugs help give each their own personality.

It’s around here that logical album composition choices start to work against Breach Us. On a four track record, after two ragers, it makes sense to slow things down a bit on track three. Enter “Crimson.” After a minute of see-saw drumming, a simple riff built mostly of distortion — enviable live wire guitar tone still intact — plods behind the first clean vocals of the album. Unsurprisingly, this works well to change gears until another, more unexpected shift. At the song’s midpoint, everything but light cymbal taps and understated guitar feedback drops away. This goes on for almost two minutes before the riffs return, but from that point on, something has left the room as “Crimson” more or less wanders to its conclusion. Anchoring the relay is 14 plus minute closer “Can I Carry You.” Again, Hymn shake things up, experimenting with guest vocals and loose improvisation that push into noise rock territory, but the interesting bit ends at the 4:30 mark. This leaves a full ten minutes of more conventional atmo-doom progressions that trail off more than they conclude the album. A return to the caustic approach of the first two songs would have been very welcome here.

In the end, Breach Us feels a bit like two different albums hinged at a center line. One side is sinewy and taut,1 and while the other retains a bit of that vitality, it ultimately unravels under the weight of too much variation. The later songs may hold up well enough in isolation, but it’s hard not to find them disappointing after the laser focus of “Breach Us” and “Exit Through Fire.” Still, any self-respecting sludge fan needn’t hesitate to give Breach Us a full spin or three.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Fysisk Format
Websites: urskog.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/hymnoslo
Releases Worldwide: August 28th, 2020

Show 1 footnote
  1. Isn’t this how you described me when you caught me flexing at the water hobo wine cooler the other day? – Holdeneye
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