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Huntsmen - The Dry Land review

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Band: Huntsmen
Album: The Dry Land
Style: Sludge metal
Release date: June 2024

01. This, Our Gospel
02. Cruelly Dawns
03. Lean Times
04. In Time, All Things
05. Rain
06. The Herbsight

After a promising debut album, Huntsmen made a big change for their second record, one that didn’t necessarily pay off. For album number three, they’ve made another big change, but this time, it definitely has paid off.

2018’s American Scrap was a remarkable debut outing for the Chicago ensemble, one that combined Neurosis-style sludge/post-metal with roots rock and Americana to grand effect. It was a taut, down-to-earth outing, which made the decision to produce an 80-minute sprawling sophomore effort in the form of 2020’s Mandala Of Fear an odd one. While the album had its virtues, the decision to scale back to the Americana influences and shift more towards prog and post-metal ultimately didn’t result in a final product that rivalled the debut. American Scrap’s star still shone bright, to the extent that the band performed it in full at Roadburn 2022; the subsequent release of an EP more in line with the debut in the form of The Dying Pines suggested that future Huntsmen albums would return to the sound of the debut. As it turns out, The Dry Land bears no obvious resemblance to either American Scrap or Mandala Of Fear.

One element that this new release does share with the debut is brevity, as it clocks in at an efficient 43 minutes. One thing that it shares with Mandala Of Fear is the full-time presence of Aimee Bueno-Knipe as a vocalist (the recording line-up remains the same across the board, although guitarist Kirill Orlov subsequently left the group following the completion of recording, to be replaced by Gavin Cushman); however, this time around, Bueno-Knipe feels far more successfully integrated into the band’s writing process than she did on Mandala Of Fear, where her vocal contributions were almost entirely back-up harmonies. She gets several opportunities to take centre stage, as do the other instrumentalists in the group; all members are now credited with performing vocals in the album’s promo notes, and Chris Kang shares lead responsibilities with other members on multiple occasions.

Looking past the vocals and onto the music, in terms of style I would categorize The Dry Land as post-metal first and foremost; there are still Americana influences, but they mostly appear on the two shorter songs, “Lean Times” and “Rain”, each of which open in all-acoustic fashion before gradually increasing the intensity and introducing distortion. However, Huntsmen’s sound has not just turned into straight post-metal as a result of this; instead, the group incorporate different influences, whether it be brooding sludgy doominess, mellower psychedelia (such as in the desert rock-inspired opening to “Cruelly Dawns”), or vicious black metal. The latter of these emerges most drastically on “In Times, All Things”, which opens with a blackened blasting assault, and brings back such elements later on for a remarkable post-black section.

These varied influences are all well and good, but what makes The Dry Land such a step up from Mandala Of Fear is how strong the songwriting is, which is most clearly demonstrated with opening track “This, Our Gospel”, perhaps Huntsmen’s strongest song to date. There are moments of percussive pounding, there’s brooding slower atmospheres, surges of energy in the chorus, lush understated guitar soloing, and really nice building and texturing during a mid-song post-metal build in which Bueno-Knipe gets an opportunity to take centre stage in fine fashion (although it is the harmonizing and interplay between different clean and harsh vocals throughout the album that is perhaps its greatest strength). It’s a fantastic introduction to the album, and one that is followed up in similarly great style by “Cruelly Dawns”, a slow-burner that begins with a bluesy desert rock feel before dialing up the instrumental intensity and the emotionality of the vocals.

As far as the instrumentation goes, I’m a big fan of the guitar work, with a number of excellent solos across the album. I do also enjoy the drumming a lot, although admittedly I do find them to be mixed in an oddly unsubtle manner, which means that at times they overwhelm the other instruments (the introduction of heavier instruments in “Lean Times” serves as a good example of this), while the tone of the cymbals has a perhaps excessive noisiness to it. I find this to be less of an issue during more tom-driven passages, and a shining example of this comes in the closing minutes of album finisher “The Herbsight”; the song is gradual and understated for large stretches, but at a point late on it shifts into a really sick bass and drum groove that acts as a platform for an emphatic, increasingly escalating intense climax of everything the band has going for it coming together, reminding me of some of the more intense and hectic moments in Wheel songs.

The bloated, unfocused nature of Mandala Of Fear had left me longing for a return to American Scrap on any future Huntsmen records; as it turns out, the band didn’t need to go backwards to be successful, they just needed to find the right path forward. The Dry Land is a very solid return to form for the band that leaves me optimistic for their future.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 8
Songwriting: 8
Originality: 7
Production: 7

Written on 05.06.2024 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 1   Visited by: 37 users
08.06.2024 - 19:49
Rating: 8
A Nice Guy
This is a great album, both the female and male vocals are excellent, there's some great solo's especially the one on "Rain", and it has quite a unique blend of styles, although mostly post-metal and sludge, and some of the heavy sludgey instrumentation reminds me of Morne.

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