After a history consisting of three full-lengths and a couple of EPs since 2004, Georgia’s Halcyon Way recently made the jump from Nightmare Records to Agonia Records. The assumption as to why is purely speculative. Still, one wouldn’t be kicked out of bed for thinking it’s in hopes of breaking free of the progressive and power metal bubble the quintet has found themselves warmly and safely embraced by since the mid-aughts.
With all that warmth and safe space acceptance—Nightmare defines itself as a “prog-power label” in plain view on the internet—comes a certain amount of wheel spinning. The band ends up playing to a segmented audience, whether they realize it or not. Don’t think Halcyon Way or prog-power metal, in general, is being singled out; it happens to everyone from the biggest names to untold numbers of pornogrind bands drum machining out in mom’s basement.
That’s not to say that rubbing shoulders with the black and death metal majority of Agonia’s roster has resulted in a full sweep transformation. What’s interesting is that while so many fingers point toward run-of-the-mill prog metal—it's ironic and tragically telling something called "prog” has a run-of-the-mill side—Bloody But Unbowed speaks to a greater expanse. The production value and sonics propelling this album are unremarkably remarkable. The guitar and drums sounds, while pristine and clean, are rote and almost indistinguishable from countless other acts. The absorption of influences from beyond the scholastic and erudite side of metal, however, is done well. The band spits them out in the context of well-written songs with customary structures.
There are touches of Rammstein-esque Neue Deutsche Härte and Al Jourgensen-style industrial underpinning “Deevolutionize,” the album’s introductory track. Then the title track kicks in with a weaving of Sunset Strip vocal playfulness around riffs Testament has been writing since The Formation of Damnation. “Blame” takes that thrashing base and connects it with a quizzical combination of Dream Theater and nü-metal in the pre-chorus and chorus. Ultimately, these sorts of slight directional shifts may end up catering mostly to those with open minds who don’t give a fuck about genre purity. Either way, the band deserves a fist bump or two for attempting to do some differential mixing and matching.
“Slaves to Silicon” takes on the topic of mankind being at the mercy of technology by incorporating the harder side of hair metal and prog-lite and, ironically enough, with a conglomeration of electronic blips and bloops. It sounds a lot better in actuality than on paper. Then there’s “Primal Scream” which adds a little cock to their rock by summoning the ghost of Youth Gone Wild-era Skid Row. There are a couple of lesser shining lights in “Superpredator” and “Ten Thousand Ways.” These aren’t necessarily bad songs, it just demonstrates how easy it is to keep too close to the expectation holstered in prog metal’s hip.
Halcyon Way isn't heralded as iconoclastic saviours of prog/power majesty, but there has been enough individuation established here to warrant a forward push onto a wider world. Let’s hope their fanbase accepts their branch out and that newcomers look beyond the sterilized sound and elements of uniformity and notice this is a band trying to make a difference.