If there's one main takeaway from Lutharo's new album, it's this: Krista Shipperbottom can fucking sing.
That's not to detract from this band's other members, who shred with vigor and speed. However, Shipperbottom's earth-shaking vocal performance is impossible to ignore, from her thorny growls to soaring falsettos. It's the type of voice Lutharo wisely built their new album around. As a result, Hiraeth blurs thrash metal riffery and melodic death metal parts, singed with symphonic gravitas, to create a total package. Plus it's got a charismatic voice sent by the metal gods to command the action, which helps.
The opening track "To Kill Or To Crave" explodes with a pulse-racing bolt of energy, as Shipperbottom announces their entrance with a hellish howl. Shipperbottom possesses a throaty demonic snarl at times, but is delivered with the clarity to discern her double entendres, like "Nothing is off the table/Your fate sealed in blood/Nowhere to run/I'm cocking the gun."
"What Sleeps In Your Mind" rocks it in the pocket, and grants space for the guitars to weave an Iron Maiden-esque melody. Shipperbottom sings more in this one, as her voices dances in the center of its folksy string arrangements. This one is the first of several songs to include orchestral synthesizers, and they embellish the soundscape without cheesing things up. Then there's "Phantom," which will haunt one's memories with its relentlessly catchy flair. Its brassy orchestral section contrasts the guitars as they waltz high on their fretboards with flashy, dueling licks.
"Worship Your Path" seems destined to be a big festival anthem, deliberately engineered for crowd interaction. Shipperbottom wails a big "woah" section that even the drunkest, tone-deaf hoopleheads can sing along to with ease. The chorus is simply a Dio-level of awesomeness, except on a higher vocal register. Think Deep Purple's "Child In Time."
Wait, do you dig intertwined double guitar leads? Because Hiraeth delivers them in droves. Guitarists Victor Bucur and John Raposo drive this consistent album with an air-tight crunch. Drummer Duval Gabraiel fuels the energetic pace with the perfect set of restless feet, rattling off waves of triplets, blistering double bass, and dribbling wallops. And while Lutharo doesn't list them as personnel, the keyboards are practically a sixth member, flourishing the edges of Hiraeth. It's all excessive, but it rocks.
Lutharo hurdles toward more extreme territory on the latter half of Hiraeth to pleasing effect. "Valley Of The Cursed" summons black metal evil with tremolo guitar-driven hyperspeed, while dungeon crawling keyboards reek of a sinister symphonic air. "In Silence We Reign" persists with the pummeling rhythms by way of more blast beats, and again, belts out another banger of a fist-pumping chorus.
"Eclipse" and "Lost In The Soul" conclude the album with a one-two knockout punch. Both these songs squarely land totally righteous chorus sections, all but certain to provoke headbanging and sing-alongs in the battles to come.
Hiraeth grips the sonic curvature with the poise of a high-performance sports car. This album dazzles with sweet ear candy, but also packs substance. Even more impressive, it's both self-released and Lutharo's first full-length album. The only obstacle in the way of a higher review score is its production. To this reviewer's ears, the guitar tone wades into "djent" territory at times, which detracts from the classic metal atmosphere that this album is dripping with. The drums, too, are a touch too clicky.
Mixing and mastering qualms aside, Lutharo has arrived with one of the most thrilling metal records of 2021. Every single song on this album has at least one part that will stay with you. Lutharo's nails the catchiness with a sniper's accuracy. Their hooks WILL find you, so just try to sit back and enjoy it. Remember, nothing is off the table.