Written by: AP on 12/03/2014 19:59:02

Hark, from the Welsh coastal town of Swansea, came to be in 2010 following the demise of stoner rock group Taint, whose guitar toting vocalist Jimbob Isaac clearly had not exhausted his passion for that genre just yet. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that his new project, too, subscribes to the core elements of it, though with considerably more spectrum than was the case previously. Dubbed simply heavy rock by the trio (completed by bassist Nikolai Ribnikov & drummer Simon Bonwick), the band's music did not exactly sweep me off my feet when I experienced it live, for the first time, during their concert in support of Clutch last year. But it did create enough of an impression for me to make a mental note of ensuring their Kurt Ballou-produced debut album "Crystalline" would not pass by me unnoticed - and for that, I now find myself grateful to my past self.

The trio's self-ascription of this heavy rock tag is merciful, as it avoids the usual clusterfuck of trying to pigeon hole music made with a diverse set of influences. There is stoner here, certainly; but also sludge, psychedelic, prog and straight-up rock, with virtually every song exposing new muses and thus painting Hark a slightly different shade of Southern. What all of these songs have in common, however, is that whether they're shelving out thick, stoning riffs, searing grooves, or epic mournful melodies; they're all heavy, and all flushed with that ugly, festering sense of doom that misters Philip H. Anselmo and Kirk Windstein would surely accept as their own. Indeed, like the music of Crowbar and Down, "Crystalline" is all the oppressive heat, murky swamps, withering oil industry and occultism of the deep South compressed into evocative sounds.

As is customary in this genre, Hark place riffs at the forefront. It is often the case with stoner music, I find, that bands inbreed a very specific selection of riffs and then reuse, recycle or, at best, arrange those in a different way, ultimately resulting in a style distinguished by its uniformity. Naturally, there is the odd chance that such reproduction does bear useful, non-abominable fruit - the point is, there is no denying the saturation from which the stoner scene suffers. But much to my welcome, Hark beg to differ. From the opening salvo of "Palendromeda", there is the instant sense that Isaac's riffcraft is just a tad more organic and eclectic than usual, angular strings of notes thrusting forth like razor shards and then immediately retreating into the lower frets as if some horrific crystalline structure was being realised. Such jaggedness is revisited elsewhere, too, with "Mythopoeia" in particular enlisting some seriously stark juxtaposing down the guitar and bass necks.

What one would typically expect from a band of Hark's stylistic preference is slow burning grooves, drilled directly into the cerebrum to induce that hazy, stoned feeling from whence the genre derives its name - and "Crystalline" certainly has that quality as well. One needs only listen to "Sins on Sleeves" or "Black Hole South West" to detect the profuse amount of nodding in the NOLA direction taking place, but unlike so many of their peers forever destined to dwell in the pit of mediocrity, Hark show finesse, wit and invention in realising their ideas. That is why it never sounds out of place to bust out a swirling Torche-esque lead at the beginning of "Breathe and Run", or to stretch into dark, progressive grandeur on conclusive piece "Clear Light of" in the esteemed company of guesting vocalist Neil Fallon of Clutch - or, for that matter, to precede said song with a short a short interlude like "Xtal 0.6", whose rolling tom-toms and distant, teasing bits of riff are there to ease the listener into the most stylistically deviant track on the record; one which recalls Bombus' "The Poet and the Parrot" when the lengthy crescendo is unleashed and Fallon joins in.

Despite packing serious punch and revelling in consistency, however, "Crystalline" is somewhat troubled by its massive emphasis on the instruments, particularly that of the six-string sort. It's not that Isaac's powerful, Windstein/Anselmo inspired roar ever sounds exhausting; it's that as an album, "Crystalline" is unable to deliver those distinctive standout moments that stick for weeks on end, and I suspect without resorting to a number of characteristic, though perhaps well worn riffs (which even the aforementioned Crowbar and Down happily will do), it is left to Isaac's vocal performance to produce those moments. But even in their absence, the consistency of the material, the instrumental capabilities of Isaac and his compatriots, and most importantly, the regularity and quality of the riffs seductively beckoning your return for further climaxes in your ears... Well, let's just say there's plenty of compensation in this thing for its lacks.


Download: Palendromeda, Sins on Sleeves, Black Hole South West, Mythopoeia, Clear Light of...
For the fans of: Crowbar, Down, Kingdom of Sorrow
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Release date 14.03.2014
Season of Mist

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