Hard rock. Alt-metal. Post-grunge. These were the things I listened to back in high school. Breaking Benjamin and Disturbed in particular satisfied my desire for a bit of harmless aggression in my angsty youth. To be fair, I still hold a soft spot for the stuff, with Phobia and Ten Thousand Fists rising above the rest as the two albums from this subset of artists that I still regularly revisit. Los Angeles’ Hyvmine emerge from the same gene pool, fully intending to rock the world with their sophomore effort Retaliation. As this is the case, a bit of nostalgia is all but inevitable. But can it transcend the shallow buzz of good times long past?
The short answer is no. I hate to say it, but there is a reason I (for the most part) grew out of this style of hard rock, and Hyvmine remind me all too well of that. The songs are fun to listen to at first, but they lose their edge quickly and the fun diminishes on every subsequent replay. Chugging riffs perform endless copy and paste operations to fill out songs with ersatz heft. Vocals fit like a glove for the style and elevate the music enough that at least I don’t feel inclined to shut it all down after the first thirty seconds. In other words, Retaliation is common denominator mid-2000s alt-metal.
Take opener “Born to Rage.” I swear this played on Sirius XM Octane back in 2007. It’s an alright song, but only because main guitarist/lead vocalist Al Joseph so confidently delivers his vocals that it was hard not to crave deeper enjoyment than I could reap. I thought that maybe this song meant to ease listeners into the material. Perhaps it would get more interesting from there. Two songs passed, then five, and then closer and lead single “Assassins” concluded and the only note I had to show for it was, “This has all been done before and better.” I figured I must’ve missed something, so I gave it a few extra chances. After four additional spins I noticed that the melodies that introduce “Imitator” and “Liberation” are thoughtful, catchy and pleasant. But then the band fumbled in spectacular fashion and I’m back to cookie-cutter riffs and throwaway Submersed choruses.
Frustrated beyond all measure, I threw my pen across the room as a sportsball fan would throw a chair at the sight of a bad play. I grabbed another pen, came back and suddenly I saw that I’d been listening to the album in the wrong order. Goddammit. I reorganized it properly and started over. Almost impossibly, I couldn’t immediately recognize that I had actually changed anything. I checked my track listing. It was correct. I no longer opened the album with the closer and “Life in Fire” occupied its rightful place as track number three instead of hiding behind track six. At this juncture I realized Retaliation is just so consistently meh that the album plays out like one amorphous blob of meh, no matter how the tracks are arranged.
There is one song that perked my ears, though. “Dark Holes” is far and away the highlight of the record. Make no mistake, it still reeks of some unholy amalgamation of Sevendust and Three Days Grace with KoЯn‘s plucky bass tone (which I’ll admit I’ve always loved), but the song is hooky and the vocals are stellar. If Hyvmine invests in songs that work in the same counter-intuitive way that “Dark Holes” works, then I’ll be more interested when album three comes around.
At least I can say that Hyvmine have improved since Earthquake. That record would have been base-tier way back when this kind of post-grungy alt-metal was trendy. Retaliation, however, reveals a band more confident in their sound with Al’s vocals even more charismatic than before. Yet, for all of the short-lived fun that some might glean from this record, listeners are far more likely to use it as an excuse to revisit their Phobia or Ten Thousand Fists. I certainly did.