Hadal Maw have been one of the most promising acts to emerge from the tech death underground in recent years. They’re also one of the most frustrating. The Melbourne outfit seem forever poised upon the precipice of greatness. However, now two-and-a-half albums into their career, it’s starting to seem like the fulfillment of their potential may be a long time coming, if at all. Their new EP, Charlatan, is likely a transitional record, and one which sees the band taking further, incremental steps toward refining their sound. Yet overarching issues still remain, and their persistence is starting to suggest that they may never be rectified.
Even at only 5-tracks, Charlatan clocks in at just shy of half an hour, which is only around 10-15 minutes shy of their previous, full-length output. The record also sees an overall turn toward longer, more atmospheric and drawn-out compositions, with an average track length hovering around the 6-minute mark. It’s only on the final, two-part title track, that the atmospherics really start to come into play and reap their rewards, however, which means that the slower and less potent earlier material can sometimes already feel like it’s overstayed its welcome before the album ever reaches its apex. Conversely, the relatively weak mix of the EP also means that you can put it on and often have it come and go without leaving much of an impression.
I’ve complained about Hadal Maw’s production in the past and, three records in, it seems like I’ll probably continue to be complaining about it for some time. Charlatan lacks the same punch and bottom end that Senium (2014) and Olm (2017) lacked before it—making it clear, at this point, that such a thin, top-heavy mix is undoubtedly a deliberate aesthetic choice. The band’s sound really doesn’t benefit from such bottomless presentation, however, especially when compared to the overbearingly heavy and bombastic chaos they bring to the live front. The bass has more presence and plays a more active roll in the compositions themselves, which is likely due to the introduction of new bassist Tim Anderson (Blackhelm, Jack the Stripper). Nevertheless, the drums still click more than they thud and the guitars continue to lack both attack and sustain. The attempt to create a more natural and intricate soundscape certainly sets Hadal Maw apart from the tech death crowd. However, their lackluster presentation is perhaps the single greatest element holding Hadal Maw back from fulfilling their potential, and Charlatan—along with the band’s previous efforts—would likely benefit from something more akin to the gritty, chaos concocted by Ulcerate or the punchier, crisper presentation of modern Meshuggah.
As for the songs themselves, Hadal Maw continue to plunge further down the well of weirdness they opened up for themselves on Olm. Charlatan is a distinctly atmospheric release, with its songs allotted a lot more breathing space and buildup over the course of their elongated runtimes. The opener, “Idolatry” is first interrupted by an occult-sounding clean vocal, before ending on an echoing, harsh a cappella. “Vilified” perhaps comes closest to repeating the style of Olm, due to its crunchy main riff—though it too is haunted by spooky interludes. The record’s undeniable highlights, however, are certainly the two concluding numbers: “The Grand Serpent” and “Fervent Beasts”; which together make up its title track. The former is the longest track on the record and brings together many of its previously more disparate elements into a striking composition, which is brimming with personality and which strikes a perfect balance between rhythm and atmospherics. Contrastly, “Fervent Beasts” is Charlatan‘s shortest offering, at just over five minutes, and the one that focuses the most heavily on the off-kilter rhythms and crushing turns of pace that have characterised Hadal Maw’s sound up until this point.
Charlatan is an intriguing release and one which suggests a more adventurous and expansive future for Hadal Maw. However, it never quite coheres into a cohesive, stand-alone release, and many of the production issues that have likewise held back the quartet’s previous offerings remain unshakably present. For all the praise they’ve attracted and the hype they’ve been surrounded by throughout their fairly short carer, the Melbourne outfit are still very much a band in their infancy. Their new EP represents perhaps the biggest and certainly the most deliberate leap the band have made with their sound thus far, but they still have a while to go yet before they can cement themselves among their genre’s upper echelon.
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Charlatan comes out this Friday, August 3rd. Hadal Maw are also touring Australia this month, alongside Psycroptic and Archspire. (Surprisingly cheap!) tickets and pre-orders of the EP are available through the band’s official page.