There are few bands that have gotten me more excited in 2015 than In Hearts Wake, the Australian metalcore quartet that formed in Byron Bay back in 2006. I lost count of how many times I’d blasted through “Divination” and “Earthwalker” many commutes ago and those two records will remain a staple in my life soundtrack for years to come. Couple that with their back-to-back North American tours (supporting Stick to Your Guns and The Ghost Inside, respectively) and their appearance at Self Help Fest in San Bernardino, and it’s safe to say IHW is having a great year.
With that out of the way, I expected a whole lot more from their latest effort, “Skydancer.” Which isn’t to say it’s a bad or even mediocre album; it just feels like something is missing and it’s hard for me to put my finger on. Given the circumstances of “Skydancer’s” creation – it was recorded in secret as a companion piece to their 2014 opus, “Earthwalker,” it was hinted at with a second lyrics booklet concealed within some retail copies of “Earthwalker” and it was given a surprise announcement back in March – there was certainly cause to get unreasonably excited. There’s also the poignancy factor: this will be IHW’s last album with drummer Caleb Burton, who recently parted ways with the group. But the end product underwhelmed.
It’s even more difficult than usual to not compare “Skydancer” to its predecessor. From the similar titles, cover art and themes (both of which draw heavily from Native American folklore), you really can’t think about one album without also thinking of the other, which I acknowledge was probably IHW’s intent with this twin records project. They both open with stirring instrumental preludes that dive right into the crushing title tracks, they both have instrumental transitions near the middle, they both have at least one song devoid of clean vocals and they both end with spoken word tracks. Like their riveting 2012 debut “Divination,” “Skydancer” is stacked with guest stars: The Ghost Inside frontman Jonathan Vigil growls out some verses on the title track, Ben Marvin and J. Hurley of the UK-based rap metal outfit Hacktivist contribute some flow to “Erase” and Marcus Bridge, vocalist for fellow Aussie rockers Northlane, shows up on “Intrepid.”
At the very least, “Skydancer” opens powerfully (again, much like its predecessor); the one-two-three punch of “Aether,” title track and “Breakaway” grab you instantly and are an absolute blast. “Badlands” works well enough. I dug it, others might not. The gang vocals on some verses and the subtle audio effects (there’s a striking pickaxe
sound in there somewhere) got me on board. After that, the record goes from great to just alright. “Insomnia” isn’t anything special; “Oblivion” is another instrumental track (more aggressive than “Rebirth,” it’s counterpart on “Earthwalker”). “Wildfire” is satisfactory; it improves after awhile. “Cottonmouth” is decent enough, but it’d be better if it wasn’t drowned in a torrent of breakdowns. Anti-racism screed “Erase” stands out for its sadly still relevant message and the presence of Marvin and Hurley (rapped vocals aren’t something we’ve ever heard on an IHW song). “Intrepid” pales in comparison with “SHAPELESS (Judgement),” their previous collaboration with a Northlane vocalist (Bridge having replaced Adrian Fitipaldes last year). “Skydancer” concludes with the spoken word track “Father,” the spiritual opposite that complements “Earthwalker’s” “Mother.” Read by Charles Francis Fox of the Odawa tribe, it’s pretty cool and closes out the album on a strong note.
“Skydancer” is a solid record that manages to fall just short of the mark enough for me to file it as a disappointment. This wasn’t the sort of review I was expecting to write, but it is a relief to know that even with a misstep, IHW can still produce a handful of standout songs and catchy hooks. I absolutely still believe in this band. They’ve produced some amazing music with great messages in a stunningly short period of time and anyone who has ever chatted them up at the merch stand after their sets (as I have on two occasions) will tell you that they are some of the kindest, humblest dudes making the tour rounds. So it is with a heavy – though still optimistic – heart that I recommend “Skydancer” only for the diehards. For newcomers, “Earthwalker” remains the most effective IHW gateway drug.
“Skydancer” is out now via UNFD/Rise Records. In Hearts Wake will embark on a headlining tour in Australia starting on May 28 and will be supported by We Came as Romans, Beartooth and Storm the Sky.
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PERSONAL REVIEW BY KYLE – MVMNT REPORTER
IN HEARTS WAKE