So Hideous are a band that are no strangers to transformation. A name change that could have been just superficial ended up being so much more than that when the band followed up their 2014 debut with Laurestine, a beautiful love letter to the power of post-black metal and to this day, one of the more ambitious attempts at the style. But that attempt also suffered from its own weaknesses, mainly a lack of staying power closer to its end and a slight feeling of repetitiveness. But, as we said just now, So Hideous are no strangers to transformation and it appears that the band have used the seven years since that release to once again descend into a chrysalis and emerge as a whole new animal entirely. Well, not wholly new; None But a Pure Heart Can Sing, their triumphant return, has plenty of the blueprint that makes up So Hideous: the use of strings, the intimate fury, the sheer evocativeness of their music, have all been maintained. But they have also been refined. Distilled. Run through a sieve and cleansed of every single ounce of fat to create one of the leaner, more accurate albums that I’ve had the pleasure to listen to in the recent few years.
At the core of None But a Pure Heart Can Sing (heretofore referred to as Pure Heart) is an adjective I used in the previous paragraph: triumphant. Everything about this album screams triumph, glory, and the perseverance of the self. These are some of my favorite black metal themes, so it stands to reason that I would love this release; and I do. “The Emerald Pearl”, the second track on the album, is probably the best example of how it all works. First, the drums. The drum production on this album is so good. The kick drum is incredibly forceful, creating a “seat” of noise which is constantly pushing everything else into your ears. But, unlike what can often happen, the snare and the cymbals have also been persevered in the mix, hitting hard exactly when they need to. These are also beautifully supported by the bass guitar, creating an unstoppable thump to the release. Perhaps this is no surprise, considering that The Number Twelve Looks Like You‘s rhythm section of bassist DJ Scully and drummer Michael Kadnar are playing on this album.
Then, there are the strings. The glorious strings! Like on Laurestine, they provide the main compatriot of the guitars, amplifying and bolstering them with added energy and flair. The guitars themselves are nothing short of scorching, their tone blisteringly electric and accurate with very little given over to abrasiveness or fuzz. And it works incredibly well, setting up the black metal intensity of the riffs ablaze. Alongside these instruments sing brass instruments that once again wear the adjective “triumphant”. The trumpets are loud, blaring, and over the top, driving up the loudness register of the track to an extreme degree. They, more than perhaps anything else except for the way the drums are written, add this flamenco, Iberian timbre to the album. This timbre runs throughout the entire album, even though it runs in the background of the composition. There’s something more beat-forward about Pure Heart, oriented much more around the way tracks run and their weight, the way they saunter, than previous So Hideous releases.
Notice what I left out? That’s right, I left out the vocals because by God, they deserve their very own paragraph. Christopher Cruz, the band’s vocalist, was always a vocalist I appreciated. The thrust of his expression and the weight of emotion he has been able to bring to the band’s music has always been something I loved. But he has absolutely outdone himself for this release. It’s not really a matter of technique or timbre; he sounds like he has always sounded, which is great. But on Pure Heart (perhaps tying into the album’s aptly chosen title), Cruz sounds so visceral, so absolutely wounded, hopeful, raging, and in pain, that you cannot help but empathize with him. This takes the already moving compositions and launches them into the stratosphere, the vocals reaching out of your speakers (or headphones, you do you, but this album really works well on speakers) and grabbing you by the stomach, drawing you into its embrace. Cruz is simply a monster on this album, channeling the final, secret element that was needed to complete the release.
Throw all of the above into just thirty three minutes of music and you have yourself an artillery shell of a release. None But a Pure Heart Can Sing is like the dervish’s whirl or a drunken dance in a sweaty room with a beautiful partner: over before you can tell, leaving you dizzy, elated, with a heart full of pain, beauty, anger, despair, and resolution. It is over before you know it, having swept you off of your feet. It was a clever decision to make this release shorter; it makes So Hideous sound so much tighter, so much more essential, and is that not how you want your post black metal to be? Sweet, short, energetic, piercing, and intense? I know it’s how I want to be and on None But a Pure Heart Can Sing, So Hideous have delivered everything I’ve always wanted in a release from them.
None But a Pure Heart Can Sing releases on December 3rd. You can head on over to the Bandcamp page above to pre-order it.