So Hideous
Laurestine

Last Poem/First Light, the 2013 debut from these NYC blackgazers, was a gorgeous affair, layering dramatic (and real) orchestration and choirs on top of a Deafheaven-y black metal backbone. Since signing on with Prosthetic Records, the band is reaping the rewards, and has increased the orchestra size from 10 to 30 for their second release – which is a full-on concept album.

But does increased grandiosity and a fleshed-out concept album (a story of a man guided in the afterlife by the album’s namesake) make for a better album? I’m not quite sure yet. The album, as you’d expect with the larger orchestra, has a sweeping and cinematic sound, again reminiscent of Mono or God Speed You! Black Emperor. That’s the band’s and album’s primary focus and identity, with the distant shrieks and guitars becoming almost background music. So take that as a positive or a negative, depending on which hue you prefer. For me though, the album’s dramatic and orchestral beauty (often delivered in anime-ish soundtrack spades) doesn’t make up for the meandering songwriting. The songs rarely deliver any sort of climactic peak, a criticism I had of the band’s 2011 EP, To Clasp A Fallen Wish With Broken Fingers.

After multiple listens, I can safely say that there is nothing that evokes the sheer emotion of “Last Poem” or “Glory” from Last Poem/First Light. Opener “Yesteryear” never seems to really get going, and that sets the tone for the majority of the album. “Hereafter,” “Relinquish,” and “The Keepsake” (even with its nice first few minutes) just sort of ‘happen.’ It’s not even until the last 3 tracks, “Falling Cedars,” “The True Pierce,” and “A Faint Whisper,” that the music truly moves me and stands my hairs on end.

That’s not to say that the entire album is a wash, because it isn’t. It’s a deep and layered album that requires your full attention (I daresay that’s its downfall, for my reviewing purposes), and the larger orchestral presence and acoustic moments are at times absolutely enthralling, but those are often window-dressing for riffs that never seem to develop or climax. And the vocals, while keeping things ‘extreme,’ could actually be dropped altogether, allowing the instrumentation to breathe a little more. 

As with Deafheaven’s New Bermuda, So Hideous seem to have taken a step back from a truly groundbreaking album. They have certainly locked into a unique sound that at times is tantalizing, but they just edge and edge, and never quite hit the sweet spot as they did with Last Poem/First Light.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by E. Thomas
October 26th, 2015

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