When thinking of hardcore it is not often thought of as a particularly “artistic” genre. For the most part is is rage induced, sweaty, adrenaline pumping music crafted to make a statement in a short burst of time. For the most part there are no art rock frills, no examples of poetic lyricism, and very little deviation beyond what is comfortable and what is known. However, there are those rare few hardcore bands that push beyond what is comfortable and create a truly unique listening experience. Such is the case with Philadelphia hardcore heroes Blacklisted, a band who has shown that hardcore is not meant to just be simple, but can be expanded upon in some truly unique ways. And helming Blacklisted with lyrics that prove hardcore can be poetic is George Hirsch, otherwise known as the neo folk project Harm Wülf.
It is important to note that in many ways, these two projects are completely separate from one another. However, they do share one commonality that is a consistent and powerful theme through out Hirsch’s music and that is his battle with depression and feelings of isolation. But with Harm Wülf, vs. the more energetic, angst ridden Blacklisted, Hirsch is allowed to expand more on these themes and echo them through a beautifully melancholic album. Take, for example, the opening track of Hijra, “Descend, I’ve Been Waiting”. It is a bleak, sparsely populated ballad of dark folk music that begins with simple, acoustic strumming. That does not last long though as a layer of distortion is added to the guitar lead and a simple, repetitive bass line is introduced underneath. Quickly the song shifts from a peaceful trek through a barren landscape to a dark, reflective piece better suited to a lonesome walk in the middle of a snowstorm. By the time Hirsch adds his own voice to the mix the song is a haunting array of dissonant folk music sure to drive deep into the listeners core.
This blend of lyrical themes with music that highlights and upholds it is where Hirsch truly finds his strength. At times, the songs can feel somewhat jumpy and disjointed, but Hirsch always manages to tie them together under beautifully dreary atmospheres that allow his rather gruff voice to croon out his desperate, injured lyrics in a uniquely powerful way. This is stark contrast to his debut as Harm Wülf as, where it is still a powerful testament to living with depression, feels entirely more disjointed. On Hijrah, Hirsch tames that beast a bit more allowing a darker, somber tone to drive the narrative of the album and overall unite the themes. It many ways it is similar to how a poet’s ability to master form can greatly add to their work. Free verse has its merit and can drive a poets for awhile, but without ever expanding into more structured, solid territory it eventually becomes a redundant.
Where Hirsch’s ability to weave music with narrative is best exemplified is on “Warm Snow”. The track once again begins with some scarce strumming, but quickly picks up vocals and the most thickly populated drum part on the album. The lyrics tell somewhat of a story, detailing Hirsch’s growth as he lives with depression. The track is delicate, almost dreamlike, providing enough of a dark fuzz to allow the listener to sink in to the depressive fog Hirsch lays. Cutting through all of this is an oddly solid simple pattern of ride cymbal, tom, and snare that repeats through out the entire song, as well as small runs of wind chimes that break up some of the repetitive nature of the song. Finally, when the harmonica comes in for an extended stay, it feels incredibly natural and it is easy to picture Hirsch simple strumming at his guitar and reflecting on his life. It is a perfectly cheesy, lovable image of the American folk singer and adds to some of the allure of Harm Wülf as a project.
On Hijrah, Hirsch once agains proves that he is not a one dimensional musician as he moves completely away from the sound of Blacklisted that made him famous and even beyond his own comfort as Harm Wülf. It is an album that finds Hirsch exploring not just the emotional toll and pain of depression, but what it means to live with it as well. It is a beautiful romp through the mind of someone who sees the world as a much more lonely place. Below all of this is a seductively dark soundtrack that lures the listener into a sense of unsettling warmth as they listen to Hirsch’s croon. The intertwining of music and narrative presented lyrically is beautiful and adds even more power to Hirsch’s message as he reflects on a life lived with depression and isolation. Add to all of this a charmingly familiar (though almost entirely warped) aesthetic of the American folk singer and you have Harm Wülf’s powerful second album, Hijrah, and a true testament to Hirsch’s skill as an artist.
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