HarakiriIt’s been a couple of years since the last Harakiri For The Sky album and it’s fair to say from the evidence here that they’ve been honing their chosen craft into a fine art. What it is exactly about Harakiri For The Sky that makes them what they are is difficult to pin down and I’ll attempt a stab at some kind of precise pigeon-holing further below. But, cutting through the genre-mashing, it comes down to some incredibly tight song writing and some depressive hooks that may be in danger of blowing susceptible minds like mine apart. This time round they’ve cleaned up the production a little, embedded the vocals much more comfortably into the main body of the music and begun to emphasise their rockier credentials which seems to have provided them with another musical gear altogether.

The elements that sum up Harakiri For The Sky are that good-old catch-all ‘post-black metal’ but very much with a post-rock edge and while never dropping that intensity that BM, and more specifically the more depressive-edges of the genre, can provide. The result is visions of emotional trauma, abandonment and lonely, windswept shorelines and cliff edges on which the pillars of mankind’s hopes and entitlement can quickly be replaced by those of grim, unforgiving chance and human frailty. The opener Calling the Rain is very typical Harakiri For The Sky – and 11-minute track to get lost in, piling tremolo guitars upon acoustic breaks, rocky riffs and those supreme, excoriating vocals. You know if you’re going to like this band if an extended track like that folds into a mere few.

But, for old fans and new, things arguably get more interesting from there on in. Second track Funeral Dreams is probably the best example of what Harakiri has been doing with the past two years – in terms of production values, more solid, bass-infused production and its gradually developing bass line attention and musical muscle – but also how Trauma has begun to gradually extend the band’s sound. I always thought of Harakiri as having some similarities with crust and some of the more folk-tinged black and post black metal bands in both spirit and sound. Falls of Rauros, His Hero is Gone, Fall of Efrafa, Deafhaven and even Wolves in the Throne Room all provide comparisons past and present. But I think this album puts a little more distance between them and some of those bands than ever before.

Whether it’s the cleaner production or the fact that this has become more identifiably HFTS – an album you couldn’t really mistake for anyone else. And while the steady, head banging pace set by Harakiri could be argued as a positive – a spiralling gravity well – or a too repetitive negative, it works for the most part to the band’s favour. It adds to that depressive edge that the band does so well and which works so well for them live. Occasionally ramping up into higher velocities or dissipating into acoustics, it all helps to reinforce the band’s vaguely black metal credentials despite now leaning ever more towards a rock-based structure and, dare I say, a slightly more accessible sound than older Harakiri or any of the above bands tend to offer.

That said, a little more variation in the tracks might have been welcome and few more surprises buried in there, as there were on previous albums, could have made the difference here flipping this from an admirable release into a stormier. Perhaps that could have been remedied with a bit of self-editing. As it is this is nothing more than classic HFTS – which is a very good thing, by the way. Even if a part of me was hoping for something slightly deeper or more mind blowing, this is 75 minutes of a self-defining sound that many bands never even come close to achieving.

(8/10 Reverend Darkstanley)