Since coalescing from the remnants of various previous projects at the tail end of 2015, Harbinger have done much of their growing up in public. The band’s debut EP, Paroxysm, and it’s 2017 follow-up Human Dust saw them setting out their stall at the progressive/technical end of the deathcore spectrum. Now giving themselves the larger canvas of a full-length album, Compelled To Suffer, they have painted a broader picture, bringing influences that had previously lurked in the background to the fore.
This change in approach is not immediately apparent, though. After a brief and largely disconnected electronic intro, the first three tracks of Compelled To Suffer pick up where Human Dust left off, with spidery riffs and vocalist Thom Gardner’s distinctive pitched screams. Their mix of deathcore and melodeath means that they are as likely to break into a shreddy guitar solo as they are a hulking breakdown – indeed, opening track “The Awakening” features one followed by the other.
Compelled To Suffer‘s best tracks are largely clustered in the middle of the running order, with the album’s title track being the tipping point that proves Harbinger have taken a step up rather than simply treading water. It’s satisfyingly monstrous groove and an anthemic chorus are where we start to see that, alongside more contemporary influences like Gojira and Whitechapel, Harbinger have drawn more tangible inspiration from the late eighties and early nineties. In particular, there are shades of Megadeth in the clipped, staccato riffs and rhythms, a spot or two of Slayer-esque high-speed bluster and some of the brawnier, groovier moments are reminiscent of Cowboys-era Pantera, and some notably Dimebag-flavoured squeals in the guitar solos. There’s even a hint of Iron Maiden in some of the harmonised lead guitar work.
But that’s not to say that Compelled To Suffer is simply a trip down memory lane. Whilst these classic influences are readily identifiable, they are applied to a much more contemporary skeleton, leading to a fresh-sounding sonic cocktail that draws equally from sources old and new. Indeed, Compelled To Suffer also features some of the most straightforwardly heavy songs Harbinger have written to date. “The Fear of Sorrow” opens with a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Car Bomb record, and “The Dance of Species” and “The Cleansing” head into beatdown territory.
It’s in these heavier sections that Thom really excels himself, producing some thoroughly unholy gutterals from the very depths of his soul that are disparate enough from his usual style to have one checking the liner notes for a guest vocal credit. What’s more, Thom adding a fairly considerable string to his vocal bow is just the most immediately visible indication of the hard work the band as a whole have been putting into developing their sound. Guitarists Ben Sutherland and Charlie Griffiths represent a ferocious concentration of talent between them, but don’t overplay that hand. Compelled To Suffer is peppered with clever guitar solos, but none of them overstay their welcome or feel gratuitous.
Discounting “Entropy”, an ambient coda that, much like the introduction, feels a bit superfluous, the final two full tracks on the album “Death Pending” and “The Red Flower” dispense with almost all of the ‘-core’ elements to arrive at sleek and unfussy modern metal, showing Harbinger are comfortable enough in their own skin to not feel compelled (ho ho) to bludgeon everyone into submission at every available opportunity, but still more than capable of doing so when the time is right.
Ultimately, Compelled To Suffer is the product of a band really finding their sound, reaching beyond the confines of the scene where they cut their teeth. It’s entirely plausible for Harbinger to end up being simultaneously the most technical, progressive band in a deathcore enthusiasts collection and the most modern band lurking amongst the CDs of a Big Four devotee. Listening to Compelled To Suffer in one sitting is a bit of an endurance test, with the songs blurring together a little, but there are plenty of satisfying moments dotted through the tracklisting to make it worth the effort, at least to select the most appropriate tracks for your playlists.
Harbinger have developed significantly since their inception, and Compelled To Suffer is a genuine milestone in what is shaping up to be a very successful career. There is still some room for growth, but a busy gigging calendar arranged in support of the album should nurture that growth. With this debut album, Harbinger have already delivered on much of their early potential, and made it clear that it is entirely possible that they will have the capability to create a bona fide classic in the not-too-distant future. Watch this space.
Compelled to Suffer drops May 17th, and is available for pre-order on the band’s Bandcamp page.