Harakiri For The Sky – Arson Review

Band: Harakiri For The Sky
Album: Arson
Label: Art Of Propaganda Records
Genre: Post-Black Metal
Country: Austria
Release Date: 16 February, 2018

Let me start by saying that Arson is my most anticipated album of 2018 by a long shot. Harakiri For The Sky is a two-man post-black metal project hailing from Vienna, Austria. They have released three albums prior to Arson, namely their self-titled debut, Aokigahara, and III: Trauma. Trauma ranks among my top five post-black metal albums of all time and was a soul-crushing sonic adventure. It refined HFTS’ post-black metal sound found in Aokigahara while still retaining its depressive black metal edge in the vocal department. Where Trauma sounded like a less chaotic and more melodic Deafheaven record, Arson sounds like an early Agalloch release. Featuring M.S. on guitar, piano, and bass, J.J. on vocals and lyrics, HFTS recruited Kerim “Krimh” Lechner for all of the drum tracks on Arson. The new drummer is a welcome addition to HFTS, whose drumming sounded somewhat stale on Trauma. Another significant difference between this record and their previous albums is that the depressive black metal influence has all but disappeared in the vocal range. Through the vast majority of this album, J.J. sticks to prominent mid-range screams that are far more intelligible than the vocals on the prior albums. With these changes in mind, while listening to this record my question was: does this album live up to or exceed the masterpiece that was Trauma?

III: Trauma explored the darker parts of the human conscience and emphasized the grief, sorrow, and pointlessness found in daily life. Overall, it was an incredibly depressing listening experience that still managed to maintain a sense of transcendent beauty. Arson takes HFTS in an interesting new direction. Instead of attempting to write an album more lyrically depressing than Trauma, J.J. has opted for a more hopeful approach. HFTS does not “sell-out” or become a post-black band with cheesy “happy” lyrics; even with the newfound happiness, J.J. manages to imbue his optimism with anger fit to fell lions. The added emphasis on the vocal department greatly shifts the dynamic of the band because J.J.’s vocals are no longer used as an instrument, they are now used to tell a story. Thematically, the lyrics on Arson revolve around heartbreak and depression but interestingly, J.J. uses both as methods to grow and become a better person. This album does not wallow in self-pity like so many other post-black metal bands. At its core, Arson’s lyrics are about rebirth through pain and the refusal to ever submit to depression. By including both optimism and tragedy in Arson, the lyrics regarding each theme hit harder than they ever could by themselves.

So, sure, the vocals and lyrics are different, but what about the instrumental work? From the driving drums to the melancholic beauty of the guitars, this is a very beautiful record. As is the norm with HFTS, M.S. made the guitars very melodic and remained in a major key for the majority of the record. They are multi-tracked with two rhythm parts and one lead contributing to the mournful sentiment underlying the optimistic nature of each song. Overall there is not much difference between the guitar work on this album and Trauma, except that this record features noticeably more solos. Some of the standout tracks include “Fire, Walk With Me,” “Heroin Waltz,” “Stillborn,” and “Voidgazer.” In my opinion, the solos found in “Heroin Waltz,” “Stillborn,” and “Voidgazer” are among the best solos found not only in HFTS’ catalog but in the entire realm of post-black metal. In addition, there are several moments of delightful piano-work throughout the album on tracks such as “You Are the Scars,” “Heroin Waltz,” and “Voidgazer.” It does not do much in terms of grandeur or even melodies but it does help to reinforce the themes in the more atmospheric parts of the tracks. Finally, the addition of Krimh Lechner on drums is extremely welcome.  For those of you familiar with his work on 2017’s Septicflesh record or any of his live work with Behemoth, it is not at all surprising that this album features an abundance of double-bass, blast-beats, and cymbal crashes. Because Krimh is an indisputable beast behind the kick, producer Daniel Fellner chose to place the drum tracks on Arson much higher in the mix than on Trauma. This is another refreshing change for HFTS because I found their drums to be rather uninspiring on the last record. To complement the more prominent drum work, M.S. has also focused somewhat more on his basslines. They lock into the drums and help to offset the treble-heavy tone of the guitars. Plus they are higher in the mix on this record, so we can easily hear them drive the tempo on the faster tracks such as “Fire, Walk With Me,” “The Graves We’ve Dug,” “You Are the Scars,” and “Tomb Omnia.”

Speaking of atmospheric parts, listeners should note that this album does not have much of those to go around. Certainly, there are parts on “The Graves We’ve Dug,” “Heroin Waltz,” and “Voidgazer” that slow down and highlight the guitars and basses with simple drum-work in the background, but overall this is a pretty intense album as far as HFTS are concerned. For example, Trauma was an incredibly atmospheric album with many moments of pristine, introspective post-rock. For Arson, although the post-rock elements are ever-present, HFTS drew more from the vein of tremolo-picked guitar melodies found in bands similar to Explosions In The Sky instead of the ambient song structures found in a This Will Destroy You record. In other words, Harakiri For The Sky no longer relish in slow atmospheric beauty; they have clearly opted for a driving post-metal sound in the vein of Winterfylleth and Woods of Desolation.

With the lyrical, instrumental, and structural criticism finished, it’s time for an overall review. As I said before, Arson was my most anticipated album of 2018 and it certainly delivered. It’s aggressive, straight to the point, and a nice change from the depressive post-black style found in Trauma. It’s also a good deal more accessible than Harakiri For The Sky’s previous records. However, even though I am sure this album will garner many new fans, I am worried about the future of HFTS if they continue to follow their new direction. I love post-black metal, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of the bands in the style sound very similar. One of the reasons I loved Trauma was because of its lavish depressive black metal and post-rock soundscapes; both of which helped to make HFTS stand out from the other bands in the scene. By scaling down the DSBM and post-rock influence in Arson, HFTS have chosen a simpler and far less innovative route for their post-black metal. So at the end of the day, I can confidently call Arson a notable addition to Harakiri For The Sky’s discography but in my opinion it does not top the misanthropic masterpiece that was III: Trauma.

Rating: 7.5/10

1. Fire, Walk With Me
2. The Graves We’ve Dug
3. You Are the Scars
4. Heroin Waltz
5. Tomb Omnia
6. Stillborn
7. Voidgazer
8. Bonus Track: Manifesto

Total Playing Time: 01:12:36

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