Metal, and popular music in general, is so young that innovators and torch-bearers work and live side by side with legendary masters. The result can be both interesting and jarring, as masters continually look for ways to stay relevant while their communities blossom with new voices beneath their feet. One of the most blatant cases of this dichotomy is Mastodon. Abandoning their metal roots in a (mostly justified) effort to stay fresh, their trajectory of the past few years has been filled with gestures to other great bands from outside genres and a curious emphasis on disparate elements from their back catalog. Meanwhile, the progressive stoner sub-genre which they helped forge is exploding with new acts, all elbowing for room in the purple-gold light of Mastodon’s influence.
From out of those jumbling masses, one name has shun especially bright in the past years, shining from out of Wales, of all places. HARK‘s previous record, Crystalline, marked them as one of the bands to watch from the multitude of artists emerging across the progressive stoner scene. That album held incredible promise, a promise which we’re now delighted to see fulfilled on their 2017 release, Machinations. It is a step forward in every respect, doing away with few problems Crystalline had and further solidifying HARK at the very top of their style. Cutting through some of the filler tracks from the previous album and enhancing the flow of the whole thing in the process, Machinations is a magnificent piece of music which belongs up there with the seminal works of Mastodon themselves.
The building block of Machinations‘ success is, as before, the vocals of one Jimbo Isaac. Drawing from the auspices and styling of Neil Fallon (Clutch, who was also featured on the previous album), Isaac conjures a breadth and force of delivery conjuring the image of a frothing priest of some old religion, instilling fervor into his followers. To his basic timbre he adds a host of touches, like the powerful “hugh!” on “Fortune Favors the Insane” or the vibrato which he often tacks on to the end of his notes. The result is a centerpiece of energy which seizes the forefront of the music and keeps it chugging along, injecting it with an irresistible allure that hits you right in the stomach.
However, it would be a grave mistake to dismiss HARK’s strength as monolithic and emergent only from Isaac’s delivery. After all, 50% of the band is new and it shows. Both Tom Shortt (Bass) and Joe Harvatt (Guitars) are a welcome addition to the band, pulling off an impressive feat of sleight of hand by both maintaining continuity with the band’s sound and improving it at the same time. Machinations has everything great about HARK but even more so, somehow. The bass is more prominent and imbued with a sort of silky smoothness to its purr, making its intricate touches even more audible and pleasing. That tone is one of the defining qualities of HARK 2.0 (as the band’s own marketing refers to them), replacing the more abrasive and traditional place of the bass in previous releases.
The guitars have also been treated with some newfangled flourishes. The most welcome addition is the old-school flare on the solos. Head on over to the last few minutes of “Disintegrate” for example to hear a blistering solo that wouldn’t out of place on a Jimi Hendrix track or the heavier works of Led Zeppelin. This by-now-ancient style of playing is immensely endearing within the HARK formula, subtly and cleverly nodding towards the sub-genre’s roots. The guitars can also go heavy when they’d like to (like on the aforementioned “Fortune Favors the Insane” or absolute banger “Son of Pythagoras”) but the blend between those heavy parts and the classic flourishes is where the true magic lies.
Nor would we leave Simon Bonwick out of the equation, since what is progressive stoner without a good drummer? Enshrined in the annals of the sub-genre by Mastodon themselves, a varied drummer is a must have to pull off the thick, metered vibes of the sound. Bonwick does a fantastic job of that, in both clever fills and steady rhythm work, tying a bow around the perfect gift that is Machinations. Taken as a whole, which is easy to do given the album’s impressive cohesion and flow, Machinations is a god damn classic, blending all the elements of its sub-genre while injecting them with copious amounts of energy and life. It is sure to be one of 2017’s best albums and an early(ish) entry into what is set to be a fantastic year.
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Machinations was released on February 24th, AKA Overload Friday 2017™. You can grab it from the band’s Bandcamp above.