I have been to this place before courtesy of Frozen Ocean. The suicide forest or sea of trees in Japan is a place where many tread their final path to shuffle off this mortal coil. Ghostly, macabre, steeped in legend and no doubt as haunted as any place on this planet, it’s an intriguing place that must be fascinating to visit; although one I would rather attend with a camera than a length of rope. I do wonder if anyone has ever actually committed Harakiri there but I guess as it is a popular form of dispatch in Japan the chances are quite high. Combine the theme of the album with the cover art of what looks like a dead fox about to start decaying we are very much within the grip of the Antichrist here (in a Lars Von Trier sense).
As for the band themselves they are actually from Vienna rather than the Far East and I tackled their first self-titled album in 2012 and found it a pretty enthralling listen of strident post black metal with a good sense of atmosphere behind it. Naturally I was keen to hear how the duo M.S. and J.J. (also of Bifrost and Karg) had progressed musically since it came out.
Musically there are moments of tranquillity such as the lush opening guitar tones of ‘My Bones To The Sea’ opening into a more sprawling post rock feel that’s far more expansive than one would expect from just two players. Vocals appear and capture attention straight away, they are high rasping and impossible to ignore with their almost shrill delivery. Sombre in melody and becoming more angst ridden and desperate vocally it all flows along with a feel of pain and desperation at its very heart. Songs are on the whole lengthy and involving and at over an hours playing time it’s not a listen for the hasty wanting a quick fix. ‘Jhator’ ups the pace with the fret work becoming much faster and strumming along in a blackened blur. If you found the vocals of J.J. too sharp and insistent to cope with you will probably have hit the off switch by now. However some guests crop up through the album adding to the textures, Seuche of Fäulnis yells just as hatefully on this number for example. Others during the album include singers of Whisky Ritual, Agrypnie and Heretoir, for those taking notes.
This is far from orthodox, certainly there is blackness at its heart but the guitar work and shoe gaze elements take back to the days of Indie rock at times too and further as the concluding cover song, which I shall come to illustrates. It’s a rocky ride of an album taking you through many emotions. Hate and disgust are those most evident but lingering and easily found amidst the trees are desperation, futility and abandonment. I get the feeling that by name each track tells some sort of story as they are very visual, ‘No Homecoming,’ ’69 Dead Birds For Utoya,’ ‘Gallows (Give Em Rope).’ Maybe each is a descent into total futility and nihilism, a journey that leads to that final sea of trees and indeed having found the lyrics that seems very much the case. “I’ll tie this rope to the highest tree and take my life. And as soon as my last cigarette has burned to its end, without turning once I will have left this world behind… Only death is real!”
Calling what HFTS do stylistically DSBM (don’t you love acronyms) would not be particularly accurate as far as the music is concerned but with this album narratively it most definitely is. This is not a form of suicide undertaken in a quiet fashion though and vocally it goes out howling and bitter to the very last breath. The cover at conclusion fits perfectly although dishing out Tears For Fears classic ‘Mad World’ in such a fashion might be considered heresy for some. It does I admit leave me a bit uncomfortable as ‘The Hurting’ is a firm favourite album and hearing the vocals handled so ferociously kind of knocks for six.
There’s no denying that Harikiri For The Sky have come on a fair bit since their debut and hopefully this and a brief tour with Eis and Faulnis (which I wish was coming here) will spread the word about them a bit more.
(7.5/10 Pete Woods)