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Album Review: SHAI HULUD – Reach Beyond the Sun

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Shai Hulud is undeniably one of the most important bands of the last 15 years. On the front lines of metallic-hardcore, they had a unique ability to pour vast oceans of anger, sadness, and disillusionment into 3-minute blasts of riffs and screaming aggression. And while their reputation will never be in doubt, the style they helped pioneer has experienced somewhat of a decline. Things in the world of extreme music move fast, and if you consider the years since Shai Hulud's last album in 2008, you could fill books with the amount of bands and styles that have seen their own peaks and valleys.

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With the proliferation of endless "Verb-the-Noun" bands circa 2007-2011 that took elements of the style, packaged it, and basically beat it to death, it's hard to imagine there being an appetite for anything reminiscent of "melodic-hardcore" in 2013. More to the point, a lot of the original innovators have walked away, with From Autumn to Ashes and The Bled both broken up and Poison the Well on an ambiguous and indefinite hiatus. So the question with Reach Beyond the Sun is, can Shai Hulud reach beyond the inevitable nostalgia for the mid-2000's and create a record that is both true to their identity and that prevents them from becoming the extreme-music equivalent of "Toto playing the County Fair"?

After a good listen to Reach Beyond the Sun, it's clear that Shai Hulud has avoided this ignominious fate. Vocalist Chad Gilbert returns here as both producer and studio vocalist, though not as a touring frontman. I'm sure New Found Glory keeps him pretty busy, but I'd think the line "gentle hearts once nourished with hope and compassion" (a reprise of the title of their first album) on the album's opener The Mean Spirits, Breathing would signal something more. In any case, he's definitely in fine form here along with the rest of the band, including guitarist/mastermind Matt Fox. In a recent interview, Matt remarked that the band had decided to tone down the progressive and technical elements present on the last record and "focus more on emotion". While I don't think the band ever really left this focus behind, the intense emotions of sorrow, longing, anger, disillusionment and, yes, misanthropy ("to suffer fools…is to exist!") strike here like daggers to the soul. Raw and paralyzing emotion is something the band has always excelled in, propelled by swirling guitars, harsh vocals, and equally vicious lyrics. So yes, when compared to Misanthropy Pure, Reach Beyond the Sun shows Shai Hulud sticking more to their hardcore roots and self-consciously playing down their more progressive metal influences.

The highlights on Reach Beyond the Sun sit mostly at the album's core, with songs like "A Human Failure", "Medicine to the Dead", and the dizzying ferocity of the title track. If you wanted me to point out the album's weaknesses, the first two songs feel like songs that should have come later. They're certainly not bad songs, but the title track is the more natural opener and some better placement would have helped here. Other than that, I guess one could point out that many songs take time to really catch on with the listener. But Shai Hulud has never stuck with the usual "verse-chorus-verse-chorus-breakdown-chorus-more breakdowns" format, opting instead for a dense sound that explores and challenges listeners more than most of their peers in an approach that, as MetalSucks' Axl Roseburger put it, "rewards multiple listens". So to blame Shai Hulud for this would basically be the equivalent of bitching at the sky for being blue. For me, the ultimate stand-out was "Man Into Demon: And Their Faces are Twisted with the Pain of the Living". In what be the best chorus of 2013 so far, the guitars rain down a devastating storm of harmonies as Chad belts out "The Pain of life has twisted your face", all in perfect succession. Awesome.

According to Matt Fox:

"All I ever wanted to do was be unpredictable and sound just a little different than everybody else."

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Reach Beyond the Sun: Mission Accomplished.


Favorite songs: "Reach Beyond the Sun", "A Human Failing", "Man into Demon", "Medicine to the Dead", "If a Mountain be my Obstacle", "To Suffer Fools"

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