Bewildering. It can be a good or a bad description. I think the last time that word fell to nicely summing up music for me was Mastodon’s ‘balance point’ album Blood Mountain; the one where their sludge based heaviness still counterbalanced their burgeoning prog urges. Hark’s sophomore album Machinations is bewildering in exactly the same great, eyes wide, grin slowly creeping even as you shake your head in disbelief way. Jimbob’s determined little crew burst out with the great muscle-bound but musically bright and dexterous album Crystalline. Built on great crashing and crushing riffs it just kind of steamrollered you with exuberance and confidence. Three years on I wasn’t sure how they might have grown but this wasn’t it.
With hindsight though, which is what reviewing is so much about, I should have thought about it. If Crystalline was a teenager, all wild bursting energy and raw enthusiasm (despite the fine musical history of the band members individually), Machinations is the young man bulked up but with not just experience and maturity behind him, but a finesse and focus and an urge to explore. When the first track ‘Fortune Favours The Insane’ dances in with skipping twin guitar runs of twinkling light from Jimbob and Joe Havatt and an equally light touch bass line under the fingers of Tom Shortt you have just about enough time to go “Wow, cool.. ” (or whatever you kids say..) before that tsunami riff crashes over you pushed by Simon Bonwick’s thumping great drums and Jimbob Isaac’s vocals strain at the leash. From here on in this is a giddy, tempo shifting, fluid maelstrom of ideas that never fail to work. There’s the undertow of heavy stoner sludge and the twin currents of spine twitching rocking out riffs and time changing progressive runs, licks and drum peels. It’s glorious to hear touches, faint influences, from Clutch, Rush, Mastodon, Doomriders, that kind of thing flashing by but all through the crystalline prism of HARK, always HARK. I don’t really want to pick out songs for you – honestly there after so many curves and folds here that it’ll be months before you find them all but the brace of ‘Speak In Tongues’ with its beautiful progressive flourishes and the genuinely NWOBHM gone almost Canadian power trio feel of the brilliant ‘Transmutation’ are just great contrasts and compliments.
It should also be said that this does not outstay its welcome either. It’s not short, just not that hour long album padded out with self-indulgence. It never forgets that it’s here to rock you like a motherfucker and then get the Hell outta dodge.
With Machinations, HARK have crafted a lean, nimble album that will, as you listen to all that progressive noodling, floor you time and again with suckerpunch riffing. Bright, modern energetic riff rock doesn’t get much better than this.
And yeah the cover is fantastic too.