It’s been three years since Mastodon released the magnificent Emperor of Sand, and with an almost flawless back catalogue it was with some intrigue that I listened to this, their eighth studio album… Hang on a minute… Are you telling me that this isn’t the highly anticipated new Mastodon release, but is actually the second full length from Kansas City metallers Hyborian? As it turns out, this is indeed the follow up to their 2017 debut, titled (you’ve guessed it), Vol. I. Hyborian are not, as you would expect, named after something you may find in your herbaceous border, but instead take their name from Robert E. Howard’s fictional sword and sorcery tales featuring among others, Conan the Barbarian. Volume II being the second in their trilogy of concept albums following the exploits of an intergalactic ‘traveller’ doing battle with all manner of creatures, while imparting knowledge across the galaxy.
The comparisons to Mastodon are inevitable (certainly no shame in that) with Hyborian inhabiting the same stoner rock/prog metal universe; Volume II’s sound sitting somewhere between Once More ‘Round The Sun and the aforementioned Emperor of Sand. There’s no holding back, it accelerates straight out of the blocks with ‘Driven by Hunger’, a full throttle romp, featuring Martin Bush’s barrelling guitars and Justin Rippeto’s machine gun drumming. The clean vocals even have a touch of James Hetfield about them, provided by both Martin and Ryan Bates (bass), who share vocal duties. Not wanting to mention Mastodon too many times, but if any track on here epitomises them most it’s ‘Stormbound’. It captures Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher’s guitar sound perfectly; the twangy vibrating low end riffing and occasional proggy jam, complete with fretboard wizardry, supply some air guitar inducing moments.
By the halfway point it does become apparent that there isn’t too much differentiation between the tracks on Volume II; they do tend to sound a tad samey. ‘The Entity’ however, offers some sinister guitars (well it is an entity after all) and features a groove that could light up a rock club dancefloor, setting many a phaser to stun. The closing track, ‘In the Hall of the Travellers’ is a belter too, propelled by afterburners, it’s addictive, locking the listener into its tractor beam and not letting go until they’ve succumbed to its late 90s/early 00’s thrash metal groove. Eventually releasing its grip the song slows to a bluesy, almost lethargic riff, before concluding with some acoustic guitars. The lyrics are out of this world; involving cloaked strangers, planets colliding, creation dying and a spear that can destroy all evil (how we could do with one of those now).
Volume II is essentially a good old fashioned no holds barred hard rock/heavy metal tear up, wearing its influences on its denim sleeves, in this case Mastodon, Metallica and High on Fire. In these dark days of uncertainty it’s nice to hear a band play music that could be described as ‘fun’. That’s not to malign Hyborian’s music, not to say it isn’t challenging or technical, but there is certainly a playful swagger and a touch of bravado to it, helping it feel like a distraction from the grim reality of everyday life. I imagine Hyborian would sound awesome rocking out in a sweaty club, with the alcohol flowing and the room a sea of flailing hair and limbs. Volume II doesn’t reinvent the wheel and can be a touch repetitive in places, but overall it’s solid, enjoyable, and does exactly what you would expect of a hard rock record.
(6.5/10 James Jackson)