Harakiri For The Sky are one of those rare bands that, if they didn’t exist, someone would need to invent them. The band, fast becoming an institution, is the perfect blend of finely distilled post-hardcore-post-black-metal that seems to fill a huge space at the crossroads between dozens of bands and yet still somehow managing sit in a genre of one. They have flirted with reworking the sound over the years, even though it has always stuck to some basic ingredients that mean everything they have done is very identifiable as HFTS. Second album Aokigahara used the fundamental formula to maximum effect, pulling in the likes of Agalloch as well as band’s like Deafheaven but there were also elements of crust – intense and sonically violent as well as bleak and emotionally bereft – that provided an unpredictability that is often absent from the pure shoegaze mob that many would instantly identify them with. The most recent album III: Trauma pulled a similar trick in an entirely different direction using more rocky elements, which I must admit, to me, sounded ok, but cranked down the goose-bump emotional charge of Aokigahara.
Fair play to the band for ploughing their own furrow even if that has meant, last time round, they’ve perhaps began to sound less rich and finely honed than the pillar of harrowing uniqueness of old. As great as it was, it felt a bit like it was missing that spark of emotion-teetering-on-the-brink-of-collapse the band previously had. So, that brings us to the most recent offering, Arson. This is an album I can only describe as Harakiri distilled into its purest form. But rather than leaving the band sounding bereft of invention and inspiration as a result, it’s had the exact opposite effect – like a sword blade that’s been beaten to a razor sharp edge. The long, mid-paced tracks and with soaring tremolo leads that seem to, in the hands of masters like these, reach heights that few could achieve. Emotionally torn melodies that spiral like strung-out helter-skelter rides of emotion and always with space for the band to crank the monochromatic heat up another degree or ten.
The first track, Fire, Walk With Me is a complete stormer. So much so that it takes a few minutes to adjust to what ‘normal’ is going to sound like on this album after the heady heights of those first nine minutes. As a result, my first impression of the second track was a bit of a comedown – like starting the night with a single malt and then trying to switch onto Rioja. But thankfully things begin their ascent once again and, particularly after you’ve given the album a couple of spins, second track The Graves We’ve Dug, actually ends with a superb siren call from the lead guitar and the driving percussion has things back on track and into the HFTS vortex.
Heroin Waltz pitches the intensity up there with anything the band has done previously – even if you could argue that things have matured considerably since Aokigahara and those who fell in love with the chaos of Jhator and Homecoming Denied may still long for that grainy sound (although the chaos and violent intensity of the early work might be a side effect of the production as much as anything else – the production here is much more honestly clean) – while the addictive melancholy miasma of Tomb Omnia and Stillborn should win over all but the enduring sceptics of old. By the closing bars of Voidgazer there’s little else to say – if indeed you can speak at all – but that Harakiri For The Sky are masters of their craft and Arson is the proof. As someone who still has the lingering disappointment of Trauma hanging over him, all I can say is that Arson washes it away and represents a return to form for the band – even if many of its fans would argue that they never faltered in the first place. Capping the experience, at least on some versions, with a cover Graveyard Lovers’ Manifesto seals the deal on an experience which has helped me fall for the band all over again.
(9/10 Reverend Darkstanley)