I don’t often jump into a review without even a smidgen prior knowledge of a band or genre. Usually, armed with a fine-toothed comb and a cuppa, I’ll spend hours entering a band from the promo list into ol’ Encyclopaedia Metallum researching them. Making Sophie’s choice is usually tough — I never want to do a band a disservice by not researching or placing myself confidently within their musical world. However, all the promo for the next month was already selfishly taken by my fellow staff members and so, feeling like a lonely Zoidberg in “Why Must I Be a Crustacean in Love?” I settled for the Los Angeles-based progressive hard rock and metal band Hyvmine (a purposeful misspelling of hive-mind). Quite the stranger to this palm-tree infested metropolis, I found myself trying to ingrain myself in Los Angeles’ culture in order to take in the essence of Earthquake — the bands’ debut album. This meant partaking in early morning meditation sessions, eating açai bowls — it’s pronounced “ah-sigh-ee,” peasant — and playing rogue improvisational jazz piano compositions in restaurants. Now I was ready, or so I thought, but how wrong I was.
Created as a vehicle for guitarist Al Joseph to explore his progressive roots within a full band setting, Hyvmine play a post-grunge/modern-rock channeled progressive metal that carries the watered down essence of Alter Bridge, Shinedown, Nickelback, and Tesseract. It’s a truly peculiar mix that twists and turns without warning, never stabilizing and traveling in a logical direction. “All of Creation,” for example, opens with pick-up truck heavy guitar chugs and Chad Kroeger-esque gruff vocals before a rather sleek and dynamic melodic bridge and chorus follows, sounding somewhat like a cool, sun-drenched Tesseract. Wild, squealing soloing often follows, tagged on to the arse-end with finger-shredding and rip-roaring self-indulgence. Many of the guitar passages were meant to feature on Joseph’s solo ‘virtuoso’ instrumental albums, but instead feature here – one can tell. One minute a song is grooving at a mildly acceptable – if forgettable – pace, and the next Johnson is shredding with gnarly, unrestrained, forgettable, earthquake-like intensity!
When things slow down Hyvmine sound like an 80s Alter Bridge. “Earthquake” is a sweet ballad, blazing with acoustic guitars, yeahyeahyeah backing vocals and harmonies, and heart-wrenching chorus breakdowns. It’s sickeningly dramatic and instantly forgettable. Joseph can certainly sing, and the band can play, but the end product is a dizzying set piece with little substance. The subtlest intricate melodies, genuinely full-of-feels, can’t save it. The problem also lies with the guitar tone. There’re so much peculiar cut-off and palm-muting to Joseph’s playing, especially during the opening and mid-sections of “Fire Escape.” It’s djenty without being full-on djenty; stuck in an in-between upside-down world that sucks the life from the song completely. This monotone chugging completely cuts off any good song building and Joseph’s desire to steal the show at every junction grows tedious as the album progresses.
The final minutes of “Fire Escape” are very decent; interesting laces of off-kilter melodies, more frantic drumming, and deeper, gruffer vocal lines serve the song well, but this respite from uninspiring compositions is too brief. “Elysium” is decent too — a lot more sappy and subtle as it rides its melancholic and gentle djentified wave. This leads to a more dynamic and natural sounding feeling as feathery guitar and key solos merge organically. At times I’m reminded of the most recent Voyager but with more grunge and early-2000s nu-metal nonsense. Plastering Joseph’s creative vocal lines and layered harmonies onto flat songs dilutes their strength. Too many songs are beyond derivative. Closer “Cliffhanger” would easily slot in next to Creed and Staind on a PS2 wrestling game. I would have adored this crunching brutality as a 12-year old wrestling addict who listened to The Beatles, Keane, and Dido on loop. This is certainly brutal but in a different way.
Earthquake is a straight-to-VHS re-make of a late-’90s B-Movie. Joseph is a very talented instrumentalist but this doesn’t translate well to a full-band album setting with vocals. Heavy metal this tries to be, but heavy metal this is not. This is very much Hollywood’s version of heavy metal, constantly backward-looking and askew, a wonky cut-and-paste job of commercially successful bands who themselves offered little more than fast-food choruses and sickeningly forced woe-is-me lyrics. I don’t take enjoyment in slating albums, but there’s really little here to enjoy here. Listen at your peril.