Sunday, 21 September 2014

Halcyon Way's 'Conquer' - Album Review

Despite the band still being relatively small, Halcyon Way are starting to make a name for themselves in the metal scene. The Atlanta progressive metal quintet already have plenty of high-profile support slots under their belts and more on the horizon; most notably, supporting Saxon and Skid Row throughout Europe later this year. It was a support slot that originally made me aware of the band, as I saw them touring with Delain in the UK back in 2012. I bought their EP IndoctriNation after the show having been impressed by their short but powerful set. I have since got their previous two studio albums and was equally impressed with them, particularly 2010's Building the Towers; their second release. Conquer is the band's third full-length studio album and sees the band perfect their heavy brand of melodic metal even further. While Building the Towers was definitely more progressive in terms of songwriting and arrangements, this album is catchier and packs a greater punch because of the tighter songs. The band's main trio of vocalist Steve Braun, guitarist Jon Bodan, and drummer Ernie Topran have had four years since the last album (not including IndoctriNation which was released on 2011) to perfect their craft and it shows. Joining the band for the recording of the album was bassist Max Eve, but he has since switched to rhythm guitar with the addition of bassist Skyler Moore to the band's ranks, bringing the band back up to their usual five-piece line-up. The album was recorded with just the four members though, with Bodan handling all of the guitar parts. Sound-wise, this album is still very much in the same vein as the band's previous work despite the tightening up of the arrangements that I mentioned previously. Halcyon Way still sound like a great mix of Rage for Order-era Queensr├┐che and Nevermore with the odd passage of harsh vocals thrown in. Braun's vocals have got much stronger between this album and the previous one, and his delivery is excellent throughout. I had read some comments previously about some fans not really enjoying the tone of his voice, and I could understand their concerns to a point; but I think all that has been rectified here.

The album's title track gets things off to a heavy start with some drumming from Topran that slowly builds up before a huge guitar riff kicks in and the verse storms off with Braun's powerful vocal delivery and plenty of pinch harmonics from Bodan. Catchy choruses are all part of Halcyon Way's sound, and this song has an excellent one, with Braun being backed up by Bodan's harsh vocals to create a heavy, but infectious sound. The latter's lead guitar work is also strong, with a short solo before a reprise of the melodic chorus and harsh vocal-led section that follows it. Web of Lies, and it's video, have been on Youtube for quite a while now, and it is a very strong track that encompasses all that is good about the band. I particularly like the discordant riffing throughout the verses which sounds suitably evil. The chorus sees the pace slow slightly, taking on a more cinematic edge with Braun sounding really melodic, before an anthemic section led by Bodan's vocals is sure to get fists pumping when the song is played live. Conceived in Torment is another heavy song that has some jarring keyboard sounds throughout the intro that only help to add to the heavy atmosphere, giving the song a slightly industrial edge. The pre-chorus of this song is epic, with Topran's frantic drumming and Braun's extended vocal notes really standing out. Bodan's harsh vocals dominate certain sections of this song, and this makes it one of the heaviest numbers of the album. Home sees the pace drop slightly and allows Braun to use a slightly gentler side of his voice backed by some nice arpeggiated guitar lines from Bodan. Bigger riffs do come in throughout the song, but it still feels much more laid back than what has come previously. The chorus has a slight AOR feel about it too, which works surprisingly well. Militant is the album's next highlight. The main riff of this song has a real Queensr├┐che vibe to it, but the double-bass drumming that is introduced soon kills this off and the heaviness returns. The verses see great use of call-and-response vocals between Braun and Bodan; and the song's chorus makes good use of the song's opening riff to create something that sounds like it is straight from the 1980s. Braun's vocals soar and the off-kilter rhythms provided by Topran's drumming gives the song a progressive edge.

Hatred is my Cause is one of the catchiest songs on the album. It is an angsty little song, with Braun snarling the verses out with real vim. The chorus is a melodic feast, with more hooks than anything heard on the album so far. It is still heavy though, with a section towards the end that ramps up in that respect, just before a short guitar solo. The Poisoned Apple is much more of a mid-paced affair which again makes good use of electronics to create a fuller atmosphere. The 1980s vibe is quite prevalent here again, with some nice arpeggiated lead guitars sitting just behind the main riffing and some added lead guitar lines compete with Braun's chorus delivery towards the end, adding a nice harmony. Save Your Tears is another more mid-paced song with a really powerful chorus and possibly the album's best guitar solo. Bodan really lets rip here and does his best to keep up with Topran's fast footwork. The second half of the solo is much slower and more melodic however, showing that he can do both the faster and more expressive soloing just as well. The next highlight is the penultimate song King of Ruin. The song opens with a rather progressive main guitar riff that gets through many notes in a short space of time. It is another heavy number with plenty of harsh vocals and on-point drumming from Topran. The dual-lead guitar solo is also very impressive, and has hints of traditional heavy metal about it. The progressive vibe is most obvious here though, with the technical guitar riffing and the song's very distinct sections that all mesh together very well. The album's closing number Eviscerate the Morning Sun ensures the album ends on a high with a furiously fast metal tune. The chorus manages to soar, despite the really fast drumming of Topran and Braun's piercing cleans rise above Bodan's harsh vocals to dominate the track. It is a great closing song, and is definitely one of my favourite songs on the album. Overall, Conquer is a real statement from a metal band that is looking to really go places in the scene. They have potential for an awful lot of cross appeal as their music is hard to categorise and has it's feet in many camps. I do not think it will be long before we start hearing a lot more about Halcyon Way in the music media, as they are the sort of band that should be being promoted a lot more than they are!

The album was released on 23rd August 2014 via Massacre Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Web of Lies.

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