Concept albums are such a hard thing to follow up. An artist spends so much time developing a universe and playing on themes that it’s often hard to come back from especially if the artist is not known for that kind of songwriting or storytelling. Luckily, that isn’t a problem for Seattle’s black metal duo Hoth returning for their second full album release Astral Necromancy. Instead, David Dees and Eric Peters dig in their heels and go for expanding their universe and certainly have the chops necessary to do it.
First, we need to confront the obvious. Yes, the band is named after a major setting and plot point from The Empire Strikes Back. Yes, their original demos were about creatures and settings from the original trilogy. And sure, one could say that their first album was the story of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. However, no one should throw this band away as an exercise in superfandom and fanfiction-style storytelling. The duo has an incredible ability to write songs in a space opera setting and maintaining the dark atmosphere needed for that kind of storytelling.
Another thing to address is the band’s unique style. The most accurate description of their sound is blackened melodic death metal. It weaves a myriad of influences. Imagine Dimmu Borgir started writing songs with At the Gates. It’s very melodic while also being very riff heavy. But it also avoids the orchestral bombast of the melodic bands, focusing solely on the melodies they can make with just guitars and vocals. The melodrama of the music is in the style and not in the aural theatricality.
Hoth’s particular brand of blackened death makes it stunningly good for storytelling. They proved that with Oathbreaker. Unlike that album, Astral Necromancy is telling smaller stories in the same black magic space opera universe. The songs don’t need to have the same connective tissue that a full concept album has. Gone are the extended folk sections that served to hold the story together. Instead, this record relies on the individual songs themselves serving as the setting.
It also relies a lot on space. There’s a sense of sparseness to these songs that really allow the stories to grow. The songs have a lot to them, of course. But there’s a kind of buffer between the guitars and drums. While the guitar melodies are awesome to hear, they don’t take up so much space as to detract from the vocals and the lyrics. Clearly, a lot of thought was put into the songwriting approach because it lets you think about what’s happening in the song as it’s happening.
The opening track is the perfect embodiment of the entire record. “Vengeance” starts off just as you could expect from the titles: everything immediately kicks into high gear as the aggressive picking of the melodic guitar line is accompanied by a blast of percussion. Once the harsh yet clear vocals come in, the atmosphere is palpable. You can feel the aggression and passion in the song even before the shouted chorus comes in. Every song on this record reflects the content. All the songs are obviously metal, but there are subtle variations that match the story the song is telling. It’s an extra little flair that makes this record so special.
Normally you hear a lot of jokes being cracked about these black metal project bands, especially about the solo or duo projects. And a lot of them are very mock-worthy. Hoth is not one of those. They are one of the more interesting groups of this kind out there, and this record proves it. It’s this kind of record that saves the whole genre: a masterfully produced record that pays more dividends the more it’s played. This is a can’t miss record that will end up on a lot of best of the year lists.
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Astral Necromancy is available June 15 via Epicurus Records and can be purchased via the above Bandcamp link.