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If ‘Earthwalker‘ (2014) was a lush forest, ‘Skydancer‘ (2015) a barren earthy wasteland, and ‘Ark‘ (2017) a doomed vessel out at sea, then ‘Kaliyuga‘ is a fire that flickers and fades too often. One that burns on in many different yet inconsistent directions. No two ways about it, ‘Kaliyuga‘ is an album that sees In Hearts Wake finally changing things up at times. Yet also undeniable is the fact that their fifth album is caught in limbo between them attempting new ideas for their sound, and the band merely rehashing the tired, rock-orientated metalcore sound that they’ve beaten to death. Yet our very first impressions of ‘Kaliyuga‘ – including that interactive website created to promote the album – showed otherwise.
‘Crisis‘ and ‘Worldwide Suicide‘ saw In Hearts Wake with a creative fire lit under their collective asses. Something that was shorter in length, but infinitely more compelling than anything off their last two records. The delay-soaked sample of Greta Thunberg’s 2019 World Climate rally speech in New York, combined with the gritty ’90s distorted guitar riffs, Prodigy vibes, and some seriously driving drum breaks made for an arresting introduction. One that carries the sense of emergency this album is trying to portray. It’s, dare I say it, exciting. Something In Hearts Wake haven’t been in years.
Then ‘Worldwide Suicide‘ kicks in HARD and everything about it works! From implementing the album’s sole solid use of electronics and samples, slight deathcore undertones, heavier feel, Jake Taylor’s purposefully breathy and theatrical vocals that add punch, and larger King 810 influences in the grooves. (Just minus that band’s “Motherfucker, did I tell you were from Flint, Michigan?” shtick.) I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: these first two songs are the most excited I’ve been about this band’s music in six long years. I love this duo, truly! They’re something actually different, but more importantly, something actually good. It feels alive and fired up, and only one other song comes close to re-capturing this exact same feeling of dire urgency, but more on that later. Yet for now, from this starting point, the record slowly but surely goes downhill fast.
Things start to nosedive on ‘Hellbringer.’ A trend that this record follows like a death march: for every interesting moment that In Hearts Wake spark up, it’s extinguished by a majority of the surrounding songs doubling-down into their bog-standard metalcore style, with bland singing refrains, flaccid rock moments, and Bury Your Dead rip-off breakdowns situated in their normal, dull place. With ‘Ark,’ I couldn’t stand it. With ‘Kaliyuga,’ I’m just… frustrated by it. Maybe that’s worse? I don’t know. The only proper exciting moment of ‘Hellbringer‘ is when Jamie Hails from Polaris comes in at 1:25, threatening to raise this song from a flat-line and up to something resembling an EKG tone with his energized screaming. It’s a song that also seems like a weirdly reverse-engineered Polaris tune, only serving to highlight the album’s rough production
The sole thing I can say about ‘Moving On‘ is that it is, without a doubt, a song. Like the title of the album’s fourth track, I’m just going to move on, as I have nothing nice or interesting to say about this short yet repetitive track; not in its structure, meh usage of electronics, choruses, instrumentals, or vocals. I’d be wasting both of our time more than I already am in talking about this milquetoast song. It’s just there. However, I cannot jump past the following song, ‘Timebomb.’
‘Timebomb‘ is like being caught in the vacuum of space, with nothing going on around you. With one of the more annoying choruses the band have ever written, the track’s laughable “tick, tick, BOOM” breakdown is pathetic. It was bad when Of Mice & Men did something similar last year, and it’s bad here. It seriously baffles me that a grown man wrote and recorded himself screaming out-loud, “I’m at the edge of the darkness inside“, as well as the absolute gut-buster line of “Don’t be afraid, release the rage.” It all thematically seems superfluous, too, given that two songs earlier we had ‘Hellbringer,’ whose lyrics better echo the deep love and passion heavy music fans possess; the sweet release of pain and rage that experiencing this kind of music brings. Obviously, In Hearts Wake had no way of knowing that when they first wrote ‘Timebomb‘ that such lyrical expressions stemming from being figuratively locked down and living behind a metaphorical mask – both now mean something quite literal – would become the norm. So there’s some humour in its unintentional clairvoyance. But that doesn’t make it good, far from it.
‘Crossroads,’ featuring Jake’s former partner, Georgia Flood, is one of the odder songs. Written as a diary entry between two people once intrinsically linked, many will lazily label it as an Evanescence type song, but it contains more sensual charm and Southern swagger than Amy Lee and co., especially in the pitched vocals, rising synthesizers and the parts that Georgia so effortlessly lends to the piece. The sections where she leads the song come off far stronger and more tasteful than the spoken-word and back-and-forth parts that Jake brings to the table at various points. Though, I don’t know where I ultimately stand on ‘Crossroads.’ I don’t hate it, not at all, but I don’t love it either. I’m just of a powerfully neutral mindset about the whole thing. Maybe I’m forgiving because it’s on an In Hearts Wake record? Or maybe I would’ve liked it more if it wasn’t attached to this band? Whose to say! But what I can say is that such experimentation isn’t a bad thing; that IHW wouldn’t go amiss to continue trying new things like ‘Crossroads,’ in one way or another. After all, you miss one-hundred-percent of shots you don’t take.
Admittedly, ‘Son Of A Witch‘ has grown on me a little bit. Out of all the hum-drum metalcore moments that In Hearts Wake replicate from their varying influences and past works on ‘Kaliyuga,’ this particular cut comes off the best. I definitely don’t love the track, but I’ll happily admit that I do like it a little better than when I first covered it. The titular breakdown moment that strikes at 2:46 is indeed satisfying within context, and while the noticeably tuned singing parts are somewhat grating, the “winds of change that rearrange‘ refrain is one of the better hooks the group have at their disposal on ‘Kaliyuga.’ Small victories.
The sentiments of wasting away and emptiness expressed in the melodic-focused, rock-driven ‘Husk‘ are an incredibly apt description for how most of ‘Kaliyuga‘ makes me feel whilst listening to it: hollow. The fluttery modulation used on bassist Kyle Erich’s voice in the intro leaves me cold, even though this is predominantly his song, with Jake taking a break on the sidelines until the end of the song, where his screams line up with Kyle’s singing. As does how the track moves between the verses and choruses and these moody sections filled with sparse guitar licks, subtle whispers and samples, before a tacked-on acoustic instrumental outro passage closes it out. There’s no lack of subpar songs to ‘Kaliyuga,’ but ‘Husk‘ is one of the worst.
Other than setting up ‘Force Of Life,’ ‘Nāgá‘ is basically a throwaway interlude, even with the cool inclusion of a didgeridoo. Outside of focusing on the ouroboros – the snake eating itself – and thematically tying into the album’s title, it doesn’t add anything meaningful. If you took ‘Nāgá‘ out of the equation, nothing of value would have been lost. Speaking of, the rather straight-forward metal song of ‘Force Of Life‘ is just that, a band forcing this song into being. It won’t make you want to go on a four day vision quest in the woods, that’s for sure! Elsewhere, much like ‘Hellbringer,’ the best part of ‘Iron Dice‘ is it’s guest feature moment. This time it’s Jake’s step-dad, Randy Reinmann from Sydney hardcore band, Massappeal. (A band that’s well before my time.) Randy’s higher-pitched, almost-strained screams bequeath IHW’s sound with a sense of rawness and liveliness that I don’t think they’ve ever had. It’s a sense of aggression that’s sorely welcomed, even if the lyrics smell of being a try-hard, Joker-inspired fan-fic about outsiders and outcasts.
‘Dystopia‘ is that other song I mentioned earlier that captures the world’s deeply felt tumult, one of the rare moment in IHW’s new LP sounds desperate in it’s anger. It’s a heavier, darker track, with rhythmically aggro riffage. Just like ‘Worldwide Suicide,’ it fully embodies this record’s wider message. Yet what I most enjoy about ‘Dystopia‘ is Kyle vocals. Not in how he gives us no lack of the higher-pitched cleans that his role in the band exclusively leans on, but in how he then transitions that cleaner tone into a harsher yell that helps elevate matters. (In fairness, he may have done something similar on ‘Ark‘ or Skydancer‘ but I’m never going to listen to those records again to double-check, and you can’t make me.) However, the band then don’t push this side of Kyle’s vocal and timbre any harder, nor does it generate any tighter chemistry with Jake. Which is a shame, as that’s something I’d love to see them develop further in the future, but here it feels like a missed opportunity.
Closer ‘2033‘ is a roller-coast for me, meaning that it’s up and down in quality. The song is all about the window of time given by climate scientists that we as a planet, as a species, need to act within in order to truly have a chance of preserving the Earth. A spirit that the song’s pace does sort of embody at times. Though much like this review, it’s longer than it needed to be. Driven by a decent refrain of Jake barking “2033, what’s it gonna be?” in his usual mid-range tone isn’t half bad. But then later on at the start of the bridge, he lamely shouts “come on!” as a new guitar lead kicks in under a slightly altered drum pattern for this half-hearted, semi-dance instrumental, and it makes me cringe each time. (Not as bad as Joel Birch screaming “rock!” in ‘Soak Me In Bleach,’ but still.) So is ‘2033‘ mostly hit or miss? Well, it’s like a bunch of married women – it’s a lot of misses.
One of the most talked about aspects surrounding ‘Kaliyuga‘ was how the band measured their carbon footprint during its creation; how they had the physical copies manufactured, making green and eco-friendly products. I don’t like most of what ‘Kaliyuga‘ has to offer song-wise, but this part of the release I cannot applaud the band enough for. Manufactured at Deepgrooves in the Netherlands, a pressing plant with 99% circular production environment (fancy way of saying it’s nearly all recycled), who ship packages that are fully carbon-neutral and who run machines off green, gas and solar energy, this will hopefully become a trend catching on with other artists. Say what you want about In Hearts Wake’s music, but they could very well lead the way in changing this paradigm about how metal and hardcore artists create their physicals. (Important to note that IHW aren’t the only ones making these changes outside of heavy music. As The 1975 did something similar for the physical vinyl of their over-wrought 2020 LP, ‘Notes on a Conditional Form.’) I’d love to see other Australian artists that have no shortage of socially conscious lyrics in their songs – your Parkway’s, your Thy Art’s – as well as other outspoken UNFD bands – Silent Planet or Architects – make similar changes in how their physicals are manufactured.
When I first heard about IHW making this LP carbon-offset, I naively thought: “So why not make it a solely digital release?” This is was a fucking foolish idea to have before properly looking into it, which is what I’ve done since and part of why this review is so damn belated. (Well, that, and because I have other interests and commitments.) While companies such as Google are “greening” their many data centers – data centres for digital platforms and streaming services make up a large portion of the world’s global emissions each year, due to the sheer amount of electricity used for operational power and air-conditioning to ensure so many closely-packed servers don’t melt – the digital side of the music industry is apart of this. As many believe that as its the internet, and thus not tangible, it’s not having any kind of impact. Which is so far from the truth that it’s a speck on the horizon, as streaming does swell our carbon footprint. This is an interesting but growing problem, one that studies on aren’t as comprehensive as they could be. Simply due to certain company’s not releasing their environmental emission reports, a lack of info from earlier in the 20th century surrounding physical manufacturing for comparison purposes, as well as the fact that most studies centre around a single region.
Then there’s also the question of what methods are music consumers using once they purchase and listen to a green record like ‘Kaliyuga.’ Are they listening to their Spotify playlists whilst driving environmentally friendly cars? Are they running their record players on solar energy? (We should all be aware of the costs and risks to vinyl.) Should they just download songs instead of streaming them? The layers to these problems go on and on. Yet this isn’t to discourage activism or to stop artists from trying newer, greener methods. It’s to show that this is an issue that’s not black and white; that there’s many different complexities and factors to consider. However, IHW taking this route for ‘Kaliyuga‘ is something I genuinely hope they continue down on. As it’s a step in the right direction, and I hope that others take keen notice on it and self-reflect if they can make similar changes in their art and daily life. That is, of course, the core message behind ‘Kaliyuga.’
[If you’ve got any good resources on the comparisons of carbon emissions between the physical and digital side of the music industry, please drop ’em below in the comments or on whatever social media link you followed here. I’d love to check them out!]
While I applaud In Hearts Wake for putting their money where their mouth is with the eco-friendly, recycled manufacturing around the physical copies of ‘Kaliyuga,’ I loathe a vast majority of the musical content on this new record. Like Void Of Vision’s ‘Hyperdaze’ (2019), ‘Kaliyuga’ would’ve instead made for a decent little EP rather than an uninteresting full-length. Because ‘Kaliyuga’ is an incredibly mixed bag, nothing more than the smouldering ash of the great fire it could’ve been. For every ‘Worldwide Suicide’ or ‘Dystopia’ that dares lift the record up, there’s a ‘Husk’ or a ‘Timebomb’ ready to cling to it’s feet and pull it right back down into the depths of hellish mediocrity. At the absolute smallest mercy, however, this is better than ‘Ark.’ Much like how this album’s name-sake marks the end of a cycle or era, I sincerely hope that ‘Kaliyuga’ so too marks the end of this weaker, poorer cycle of In Hearts Wake’s output; that a newer, bolder period for their music is just around the corner.
- Worldwide Suicide
- Moving On
- Son Of A Witch
- Crossroads (feat. Georgia Flood)
- Force of Life
- Iron Dice (feat. Randy Reinmann)
‘Kaliyuga’ is out now: