To be frank, atmospheric black metal is a genre that’s really, really easy to get right. Throw some folksy, naturalist guitar leads over tremolo chords and blast beats, slow it down for a meditative clean section every now and then, let the vocals act as more of a percussive guide to the music’s flow than anything else, and boom: you’ve got atmospheric black metal a la Weakling, Wolves in the Throne Room, Saor, and countless others. Conversely, it’s also a genre with a lot of forgettable bands; everyone is so focused on creating such a specific sound that experimentation gets thrown to the wayside in favor of the old paint-by-numbers experience.
This is what makes it so exciting when a band like Harakiri For The Sky comes along, a band that truly does present a fresh spin on the atmospheric black metal formula. Setting their sights on a more emotive, down-to-earth style that constantly straddles a liminal space between post-metal and atmospheric black metal – with small hints of hardcore punk, melodic death metal, and emo to boot – they’ve created III: Trauma, an album that, while not in the position to redefine atmospheric black metal or be a watershed release for the genre, is nonetheless a great album in its own right and within its context.
What Harakiri For The Sky does right on Trauma is pretty simple, actually: catchy, sad melodies abound, carried along by the entire band, and tracks moving from crescendo to valley with an elegant ebb and flow. Every new element introduced into a song feels natural and correct; each track feels as if it reaches its full potential by the end, a rare feat in a genre that’s known so often for dragging its own feet and hamstringing itself in the process. The guitars are the focal point – the locus around which the rest of the tracks revolve. But because melodies shift often this singular approach doesn’t overstay its welcome, and there’s enough variety in the songwriting that it’s easy to ignore how simple the methodology is. The style feels more reminiscent of Agalloch than anything else: they present a riff, explore every facet of it, and then move onto the next one when it’s exhausted, instead of opting to linger or return to it as others within the genre do.
The glaring issue is the album’s run time: clocking in at an hour and fifteen minutes – not egregious for an atmospheric black metal release, but certainly outside of what is acceptable – Trauma is too long to be practically enjoyed in one sitting. Of course, this isn’t the end of the world, nor does it really hamper the music itself, but for those of us who want to give the album our undivided attention and take it all in as one piece, it’s quite a chunk of time to carve out. Even the shortest track clocks in at eight and a half minutes; each song is a monolith of its own and trying to listen to everything in one sitting is draining and the whole album becomes overwrought and devoid of feeling by the end.
All things considered, however, Harakiri For The Sky have put out one of the most consistently interesting and enjoyable atmospheric black metal releases in recent history, owed to the strength of their songwriting, their unconventional approach and post-metal leanings, and their ability to return emotion to a genre that has become devoid of any in the absence of a guiding light for the time being. III: Trauma may not be that new source of inspiration or the spark the genre so desperately needs, but it’s a well-written, heavily enjoyable, moving album all the same.