March 22, 2014 by Dan Swinhoe
Following the folding of his previous sludgey power trio Taint a few years ago, Guitarist/Vocalist Jimbob Isaac teamed up with bassist Nikolai Ribnikov and drummer Simon Bonwick, the rhythm section of fellow Welsh doomsters Whyteleaf and formed HARK. Their debut album, Crystalline, features Kurt Ballou of Converge on production duties and contains 10 tracks chock full of sludge-laden progressive goodness.
HARK are difficult to define – a complex combination of rock, post metal, sludge, stoner, progressive, doom and a bunch of other things. But whatever the label, the result is primal, raw and aggressive. Frontman JB has said,“With Crystalline we hope that you can hear a new band with an old soul,” and the statement rings true. HARK show a lot of similar qualities to his previous band and that of Whyteleaf, but take things in a new direction.
JB’s grizzled bark is still present, as are the off-kilter time changes and left-field changes of musical direction, while anyone who has heard Whyteleaf will feel that the pounding rhythms of Ribnikov and Bonwick are a good match for Isaac’s style. The overall feel though is that Crystalline is a slower album; there’s less of the urgency found on Secrets & Lies and Fight The Age, and instead has a more lumbering, primitive feel. Not to say the music is simple; some of the music on offer is very technical and there’s a host of impressive guitar solos, something which Taint were never particularly known for. But HARK’s music has more raw and aggressive feel about it.
Both tracks from the Mythopoeia 7″ are present, and the promise of the epic 7-minute groove of ‘Sins On Sleeves’ and the aggressive ‘Mythopoeia‘ have been built upon. From the crushing opening of ‘Palendromeda’ to the raw stoner jam of ‘All Wretch No Vomit’, the album is bursting with quality. Hints of early Mastodon combine with an almost hard rock feel, and the band aren’t afraid to include long musical jams in the middle of songs. The album highlight is probably 10 minute closing epic, ‘Clear Light Of…’. Featuring the mighty Neil Fallon of Clutch on guest vocals, it combines all the elements of the different styles on offer into one amalgamation, and even injects some space rock into the mix. It’s a massive, and massively impressive track that sums up everything good about the album into one beast.
HARK’s has no trouble sitting alongside the back catalogue of either Taint nor Whyteleaf in terms of quality. Though perhaps not as catchy or instantly gratifying as Taint’s output, Crystalline is heavy, difficult to define, and a quality release that only gets better on subsequent releases. The British metal release of 2014 so far.