New York post-black metal experimentalists So Hideous are back after a lengthy hiatus. Their original tenure saw them produce two full-length albums of glistening, emotional, and instrumentally unique blackgaze that presented them as one of the most imaginative and ambitious bands in the genre. Returning this year with None But A Pure Heart Can Sing, So Hideous will be hoping to reaffirm their place, but with so much progression having occurred in the genre since their last outing, will their style remain relevant and innovative?
The main reason I actually picked out this record to review was the new line-up of the band. So Hideous have always been led creatively by brothers Brandon and Christopher Cruz, along with guitarist Etienne Vazquez. The new members are what caught my eye, because bassist DJ Scully and drummer Mike Kadnar are also the current rhythm section of mathcore legends The Number Twelve Looks Like You, one of my absolute favourite bands of all time. They’re also incredible players who balance technical vivacity with soulful aggression, and I was sure they would add something quite special.
So Hideous are known for their inclusion of orchestral and symphonic elements, which, in a way, has some similarities to fellow New Yorkers Liturgy. Using a combination of classical instruments that feel elementally entwined to the music, they have once again crafted a quite fascinating mesh of ferocity and tranquillity. However, the most notable thing about None But A Pure Heart Can Sing is how little like black metal it sounds. That isn’t because of the non-metal instrumentation but actually down to what lies underneath, which this time around has far closer connections to the post-hardcore, metalcore, and mathcore styles of bands like Converge, Cave In, or even The Dillinger Escape Plan. Most blackgaze bands these days utilise a lot of elements from 90s and 2000s screamo, so these influences from the wider hardcore world aren’t too unfamiliar, but with the direction So Hideous have taken it often does feel like a far cry from the blackgaze of their past.
fascinating mesh of ferocity and tranquillity…
What the band do so well throughout this record is find a cross point between the neo-classical sounds and this new found post-hardcore/metalcore style, with occasional flashes of spacious jazz atmospherics. Take the opening track Souvenir (Echo) with its ghostly lulls and superb building of tension, and The Emerald Pearl with its combination of strings and horns that punctuate the heavy riffing and tireless rhythms below before dropping into a Foals-esque guitar and saxophone breakdown. The interlude track Intermezzo is a beautiful example of a more serene take on this combination, with the clean guitar and piano together reminiscent of certain Deafheaven tracks.
The penultimate track Motorik Visage is really something remarkable. At eleven minutes long it is absolutely epic, full of peaks and troughs that feel like a whirlwind journey, and though it has sections that feel closer to the band’s prior sound, there are so many mathcore movements involved that the influence of those new members really becomes evident. The vocals in particular, as they do throughout the record, feel completely visceral. The typical blackgaze trope of drowning vocals in reverb has been replaced by an up close and present sound that adds to the energy and vitality which the band are presenting.
The closing track From Now (Til The Time We’re Still) clashes a heavy melancholic riff against classical melodies and orchestral strings that offer up a raft of subtle textures. However, it’s indicative of my main issue with this album. The track is wonderfully triumphant, a perfect and obvious closer, but it arrives too soon. There are only five tracks on this record, and at just over half an hour long it feels like there is something missing, something which the band held back which really could have drawn this album together as a more complete whole.
As it stands, None But A Pure Heart Can Sing doesn’t appear as unified as it might have done, with each track often feeling vastly different in tone and emphasis. One cannot doubt the incredible creativity and compositional skill which has gone into all of these tracks and combined with the change in their underlying sound, this appears to be the beginning of a new and highly enjoyable era for So Hideous. Here’s hoping that their next release finds that additional touch of cohesion because the foundations they have rebuilt are truly brilliant.
Scribed by: Will J