For Fans Of
In season five of The Simpsons, there’s an episode called “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy”. Towards the end of the episode, there’s the scene in which Lisa tries to convince a mob of shoppers that the new Malibu Stacy doll is simply the previous iteration, just that now a new hat has been superficially included. To which Smithers brilliantly replies, “But she’s got a new hat!“, causing a stampede of eager, brain-washed shoppers clawing away for their latest yet same-same toy. I mention this because the musical equivalent of that classic Simpsons scene is In Hearts Wake’s new album, ‘Ark‘. Meaning that it’s the same old fucking In Hearts Wake album you’ve already heard and likely already own, except that now there’s been a “new” superficial coat of paint plastered over their now incredibly weary musical formula.
Because really, fucking really In Hearts Wake? Are we still doing this shit now four albums deep into your career? I don’t know why I expected anything else, though. Maybe it’s because I (stupidly) look for the best in people and hope that bands understand the buck’s gotta stop eventually and that things – whether musically, thematically or even both – must change at some point. Not in small subtle ways, but in drastic strokes of the brush that display real change or progression. And even if that change doesn’t work out well, at least the band had the courageous balls to take such a route. That’s, of course, not the case here, so silly me for thinking otherwise.
‘Ark‘ is proof that In Hearts Wake’s musical well has indeed run dry and any hope of change will only happen when hell freezes over. After the brief and forgettable opener that is the album’s title track – made up of waves crashing, birds chirping, spacey guitars and building drums – you get the incendiary single ‘Passage’ (even if it is the metalcore equivalent of WWE intro theme music). This is perhaps the only standout song of the entire dynamic-lacking 12-track record, if only because of the truly insipid songs that follow ‘Passage‘. With the highpoint of this Will Putney album occurring mere seconds after it starts, this means that ‘Ark‘ peaks early before trailing off, with very few noteworthy moments to be found as it progresses on a bland death march towards its end.
Sure, a song like the anthemic ‘Frequency’ shows off the band’s solid knack for writing songs that will go down a real treat in the live environment and how the band can craft a strong atmosphere around that. The same can also be said when the five-piece nail their heavy but typical metalcore sound well on ‘Flow‘. Yet these are minuscule victories in the overall losing war that is ‘Ark‘. Because writing ever so slightly heavier riffs and trying to create harder breakdowns than what ‘Skydancer‘ had doesn’t change how generic ‘Ark‘ is. Because shoe-horning in larger choruses to get the sing-alongs happening isn’t even worthy of a slow golf clap as they’ve already proved (many times) they can pull off such things. Because giving their newly added and solid drummer Conor Ward a tasty but really short-lived drum break passage on ‘Overthrow‘ was a missed opportunity for something interesting. Because ending ‘Ark‘ with that weak, ethereal track ‘Now‘ was a pathetic finale and one that feels like it should’ve been the album’s first song instead. Because adding a virtual string section to the end of the faux-emotional ‘Arrow‘ doesn’t equal ‘variation’. Nor does including a sitar over the intro chug-fest of ‘Elemental‘. While definitely cool, this didn’t feel as fleshed out as it could’ve been. Besides, other artists like Rob Scallon, aswekeepsearching and Rishabh Seen have already given the sitar more interesting heavy music treatments.
Honestly, I do love the intent behind this record in the fact that the band are pairing up with non-for-profit organisation Taronga Blue to help clean up some of the most polluted Australian waterways later this month and in early June. (More info on that here). That’s a noble goal and the band’s environmentalist lyrical message remains here; the one thing I hope they don’t change in the future. But Jesus Christ, retreading similar breakdowns, guitar rhythms and tones, atmospheric instrumentation, overall album flow, choruses, songwriting formula, and having Jake Taylor yelling these utterly laughable pit calls, like “WE ARE WATERBORNE” (from ‘Waterborne‘, obviously), all holds ‘Ark‘ down beneath the waves.
Despite finding ‘Skydancer’ utterly mediocre, and despite loving their 2012 debut ‘Divination’ and really enjoying 2014’s ‘Earthwalker’, ‘Ark‘ hurt me to listen to. For In Hearts Wake suffer from what I like to call the “three album rule”*. Here, let me explain just what the fuck I’m on about now.
With a band’s first album – whether or not it’s successful nationally or internationally – it’s fine if it doesn’t present sonic innovation for said band or their genre. After all, it’s the band’s debut album and there’s always room to grow and improve in future releases. However, this debut album (in this case, ‘Divination‘) is the first and last free pass the band gets. Then the sophomore album arrives. If this second record (‘Earthwalker‘, for those paying attention at home) adheres to the same sound and songwriting formula as the debut, then this is the first strike – the first of this “three album rule”. Now, this isn’t a dealbreaker nor a cardinal sin, as it’s more often than not a solid record – shit, sometimes the sophomore can even best its predecessor (while not a sophomore, ‘All Our Gods Have Abandoned Us‘ beats out ‘Lost Forever//Lost Together‘, which was a VERY similar album). But it is, usually, a safe, similar retread capitalising on prior successes and what worked well the first time round. Sounding familiar yet? Then, of course, the third album arrives (i.e. ‘Skydancer’) and if very few things have changed since the first two records, that’s strike two and it’s here that the diminishing returns really kick in.
So, when the fourth album comes and it’s basically the same fuckin’ album as before in genre, songwriting formula, instrumentation, and tone, just now with different lyrics and different song titles, then that’s strike three. Just like in baseball, on that third strike, you’re out! And with ‘Ark‘, the Byron Bay boys have struck out with what is a horribly generic release that’s also their weakest work yet.
Some reading this review may argue that my vast distaste of ‘Ark‘ is because In Hearts Wake aren’t the “underdogs” anymore – as Ahren Stringer of The Amity Affliction (another band incredibly guilty of my “three album rule”), suggested about his own band in an interview with Blunt last year. No, that’s not it at all. For Parkway Drive aren’t an “underdog” band by any means and haven’t been for some time now, yet I still loved 2015’s ‘Ire‘; an album where Parkway branched out effectively (‘A Deathless Song‘ and ‘Writings On The Wall‘, for instance).
As for the axiom of “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it“, that doesn’t really apply here because In Hearts Wake’s sound might as well be broken. For the dead horse isn’t being musically beaten here; it’s already been fucking buried and its poor widow is trying to move on with her life, pawning off her deceased partner’s belongings in order to help pay off the mortgage. In other words, the sound that In Hearts Wake has churned out here is a watered-down shell of what it once was, and this ship is in grave need of repair and reinvigoration. How do they that? Honestly… I don’t know. They’ve kinda painted themselves into a corner now. But hey, at least this shit will sell, right? You’re goddamn right this shit will sell well!
Others reading may think I loathe UNFD artists. Wrong again, for one of my favourite Australian records of 2017 is Ocean Grove’s ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ – another UNFD band. Yet what I love about that record is that OG didn’t just re-release their ‘Black Label’ EP; they challenged themselves and ventured into other varied and unexpected sounds. Whether you loved or hated that album, I think anyone can clearly hear that OG creatively expanded their sound and aesthetic with it; something that they’ll most likely do on album #2. In one way or another. To further drive home this point, I also strongly disliked Storm The Sky (yet another UNFD band) up until they ditched their bland metalcore approach and reinvented themselves with last year’s solid “death-pop” LP, ‘Sin Will Find You‘.
As for the subject of this review, In Hearts Wake can indeed tackle important, weighty issues with their music. They can put their mouth right where their music is. And they can call out unnecessary abuse at their shows. But the actual music is what matters at the end of the day, and sadly, the actual music here on ‘Ark‘ is not only incredibly generic and lacking in quality, but it’s also woefully mediocre and void of any real impact.
As can you well and truly deduce, I don’t care for this record, and neither should you. Why? Because this album already exists. It’s called ‘Divination’. It’s called ‘Earthwalker’. It’s called ‘Skydancer’. So save your cash-monies and save the ever-dissipating currency that is your time. I will now end this review of ‘Ark’ with what I think is a rather fitting quote from Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent – “You either die being the hero or you end up living long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
‘Ark’ is out May 26th via UNFD.
*My three album rule (patent pending) may also apply to later records from a band’s discography where you get more or less the same three albums in a row. Also, it doesn’t mean that a band should be written off completely, as they can redeem themselves from this rather lazy and expected sonic trend with future releases. Also also, EPs/singles/splits don’t apply to this rule.