Album Title: Dormant
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 26 January 2024
It never ceases to intrigue me how, as humans, we have such different subjective opinions about things. Our favourite foods, our favourite colour, and most importantly I might argue, our favourite music. And then, even when we have a favourite type of music, there will be bands or artists that fit into that niche genre that we don’t like as much as others. Or that we don’t like at all. I could explore this topic all day, but I have a review to write. Mind you, as will become clear in a moment or two, it is this record that once again set off these wider, more abstract thoughts. And the album in question is ’Dormant’, the sophomore full-length release from Hiraes.
Formed in 2020 from the ashes of Dawn Of Disease, German melodic death metal band Hiraes garnered a pretty positive review on this site for their debut, ‘Solitary’ released back in 2021. Fast forward three years and the exact same quintet, comprised of vocalist Britta Görtz (Critical Mass, ex-Cripper), guitarists Lukas Kerk and Oliver Kirchner, bassist Christian Wösten, and drummer Mathias Blässe return with their second stab at world domination.
Whilst I gave the debut a thumbs up, I did muse at the time about the longevity of the album. And, as it turns out, I was right to worry about it because I cannot remember the last time that I listened to it; I fear that I may have not even spun it since the review was completed. That’s not a good sign, but I was still willing to check out the follow-up to listen to what Hiraes bring us this time.
And so to the link with my opening paragraph. I’m a big fan of melodic death metal – long-time readers of this site will not need reminding of this fact. Omnium Gatherum are one of my ‘God level’ bands, whilst the likes of Dark Tranquillity, At The Gates, early In Flames, and many more are pivotal to my music tastes. Despite this, I listen to Hiraes and I remain relatively unmoved. And it’s not because the band are bad, because they are not. It’s just that I fail to be won over by large swathes of the music that’s served up here. It’s all very slick, polished, modern-sounding, and full of enthusiasm, but…but…it’s maddening because it feels just a little too ‘safe’, too unremarkable, and lacks enough of a wow factor for me that means I simply don’t yearn to listen to it on repeat like I have done with other melodic death metal albums in the distant and non-too-distant past alike.
There are a couple of exceptions of course, and chief among them is ‘Chance To Fail’ which borders on the properly anthemic thanks to an irresistibly catchy and engaging melody in the latter stages, the kind that would really hit hard across the summer festival circuit, I’m sure. Right from the start, thanks to the rolling drum intro and chunky Arch Enemy-like riff, to the lead guitar line that rings out with a melancholy feel, this track has something different. It has an energy and melodic depth that really grabs me, whilst vocalist Britta Görtz does her best to rip her vocal chords apart with a snarling, vicious performance. But just after the halfway mark, the song changes tack and introduces a killer melody, complete with dual guitar harmonies and more lead guitar lines that stick long in the memory.
I sit here as I write this review just wishing that all of the songs could have been as strong as ‘Chance To Fail’ because then I might be waxing a little more lyrical about Hiraes, instead of feeling a little deflated and frustrated. Other flashes of excellence can be heard, such as within the blistering ‘About Lies’. The lead guitar melodies are once again out of the top drawer but, at nearly seven minutes long, the song is a little too bloated and unnecessarily long to maintain the strong early impact. It feels as if Hiraes felt that a longer song would immediately equate to ‘more epic’ but the mid-song pause in heaviness to deliver a clean vocal atop a slightly quieter, more brooding soundscape only serves to rob the composition of it’s initial power and vitality.
I actually rather like the melodic and slightly sinister feel to ‘Come Alive’, only to bemoan the fact that it’s a sub-two-minute interlude. It builds into one of the heaviest and most aggressive moments on the album and is a delight until it departs all too swiftly, to be replaced by the much more ordinary and generic sounding ‘Ocean Child’. I’m also not certain about ‘Undercurrent’ as it seeks to explore a much more mainstream approach, with crooning clean vocals making an appearance at points. Had the chorus or the central melodies been stronger or more unusual, it might have worked better. But the quieter passages are not bulldozed powerfully enough by brutality or ultra-catchy melody; instead the song just floats along and then fades out in lazy fashion.
If it sounds like I’m being unusually harsh in a review, it’s because I am genuinely frustrated. The musical ability is without question strong enough to produce something absolutely magnificent – the drumming, the guitar work, the vocals – all the ingredients are there for Hiraes to take a real stab at grabbing the melodic death metal crown. But instead, like its name, ‘Dormant’ doesn’t do enough in my opinion to waken the melodeath masses from their winter slumber. And that’s such a shame, I honestly and truly wish it was a different conclusion, I really do.
The Score of Much Metal: 70%