As Deafheaven stirred the controversy cauldron, a light of exposure was cast upon the post black metal genre and regardless of the amount of love/hate relationships that have emerged since Sunbather, the push of publicity towards this musical style has certainly allowed for a rise of bands within the same realm. By all means, I have no intention in pigeonholing and making parallel comparisons to groups that rang the popularity bell first, but without the formerly mentioned artist, there may have not been a turning of eye towards the exceptional output of So Hideous.
Main composer Brandon Cruz, vocalist/bassist Chris Cruz, guitarist Etienne Vazquez, and drummer Danny Moncada are undeniably proving their righteousness within the genre all while expanding the boundaries for this second LP. Laurestine marks the follow-up to 2013's Last Poem/First Light and the debut through Prosthetic Records. The First Light Orchestra's thirty members of bass, strings, and vocalists create the framework of the tracks while producer Dean Baltulonis (Madball, Modern Life is War) assists in shaping the heavier sounds.
Every aspect of the opening track, "Yesteryear," is the epitome of what the group represents: chaos complimenting melodies, unapologetic black metal screams, and a ravishing orchestral backing. Compositionally, the piece progresses in a wave of three dynamic peaks before steadily transitioning right into "Hereafter." A continual arpeggiated riff becomes coated in suspenseful layers of string accompaniments and percussion while the remaining minute is embellished in a whimsical atmosphere. The harmonies and rhythms within "Relinquish" flourishes in their unique pacing and thick coatings of choral chants.
The term 'conventional' should stay as far as possible away from the musicalities produced on this release, yet the intro and clean guitar parts of "The Keepsake" are extremely catchy almost as if an indie rock group slipped into the studio for a quick verse. And perhaps that slight element right there is the exact reason of attraction and crossover accessibility that bands have within this genre. Most music listeners desire a balance rather than a continuity of tempo, volume, and intensity. The soaring sonic qualities extend towards "Falling Cedars" with the orchestral instrumentalists providing a cinematic characteristic to the song. Cruz's wailing vocals return for "The True Pierce," another heavy hitter, whilst persevering towards the grand denouement, "A Faint Whisper."
Concept albums have always held their place within the metal genre whether they revolve around giant whales (Ahab, Mastodon), stillborn children (Opeth, King Diamond), or corrupt societies (Queensrÿche, Isis). Yet with time, the notion begins to appear as a pandering attention-grabber like the overdone progressive metal unconsciousness/dream theme. For Laurestine, the theme is exceedingly notable as the idea of brain activity continuing seven minutes after a man's death occurs is exhibited. Admittedly, one could compare the subject matter to Between the Buried and Me's recent Coma Ecliptic to an extent, but So Hideous take it one step further with the reoccurring seven number in regards to track amount and time signature.
Much like the lesser-known Arctic Sleep, heavy music and beauty is combined perfectly on this release. The depths explored lead to an emotionally charged and gripping experience, similar to the subtleties of an artsy film score. As stated throughout the previous paragraphs, the orchestral element is vital in So Hideous' aesthetic, a trait of true unique distinction. For any doubters or naysayers, the inclusion of an orchestra and choir is not a gimmick. It simply shows integrity. Laurestine is an exceptional addition to the genre and an overall arrangement of epic proportions.