I’m beginning to think that it’s impossible (for me, anyway) to review a post-black metal record without making comparisons and contrasts to the genre at large and making wild generalizations to the style’s increasingly routine and undifferentiated landscape. When speaking on Vattnet Viskar‘s Settler, I opined that the group achieved greatness by avoiding the genre’s overplayed staples. Elsewhere, I praised Astral Blood for using the tried-and-true blast-and-tremolo formula to their advantage. At this point, one would gather that in order for a post-black metal record to truly be great in 2015, it has to basically try to not be post-black metal. I mean, it worked for An Autumn For Crippled Children, anyway.
This implication is ultimately unintended, and merely speaks to my own fault as a reviewer for doing what I’m criticizing bands for by resting on a comfortable set of ideas in order to get my point across. What I’m really trying to get at is that the best bands in the genre (or any genre, really) have their own idiosyncrasies that set them apart from everyone else. Highlighting these differences lets the reader know that even if you’re lukewarm on the genre, give it a shot. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a band can’t make a grand statement for themselves using a set of sounds that have already been well-worn and established. Case in point: Australia’s Hope Drone.
I love Hope Drone. Or rather, I love the idea of Hope Drone as a descriptor for the band’s sound, much like SHINING‘s invention of Blackjazz. However, there isn’t much actual “droning” going on during Cloak of Ash. An appreciation for doom, sure, but rarely does the band let notes ring out for more than a measure at a time — the breathtaking penultimate track “The Waves Forever Shatter Upon Our Shores” being the exception.
On some level though, Hope Drone do deliver on this promise; Cloak of Ash is filled with epic length tracks that sport wide shifts in dynamic and an almost psychedelic use of speed and repetition that lull listeners into trance. With the right state of mind, reverberating guitars picking 16th notes through melancholic chord progressions over a bed of distant blastbeats can qualify as droning noise. Eventually, the melodies begin to blur together as a constant, and thus the band gets by on a technicality. Plus, opening your breakout record with a 20-minute track is a ballsy move.
But as mentioned, Hope Drone practice dynamic shifts in volume and tempo, pushing and pulling tracks towards their conclusion. When trudging through doomier tempos, Hope Drone nod along while conjuring Earth-like instrumentation and elements of shoegaze creep in through sparse and affected guitar-work. Pre-release single “The Chords That Thrum Beneath The Earth” in particular is a standout with its slow-building and ever-churning explosive song structure. This duality of style and the band’s choice of melodies — the “Hope” part of the promise from before — make for some seriously cathartic music if you allow yourself to drift into the comforting wall of sound.
Truthfully, no one with experience in the genre needs to be prepped for Cloak of Ash‘s archetypal sound; if you’ve heard a handful of post-black metal records before, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into with this record. But don’t let this get in the way of accepting Cloak of Ash as a great record in its own right. Hope Drone might not be thinking outside of the box for much of Cloak of Ash, but by the end of the record, you’ll be inside of that box, curled up and crying in the fetal position. This group’s skill in crafting these seven movements of whirring desire is something that can’t be shaken, and the genre is actually better off for it.