Harakiri for the Sky deserves much more respect within post-black metal circles. 2018’s Arson sharpened the Austrian up-and-comers’ songwriting, and debuted Septicflesh’s Kerim Lechner as their session drummer. Having a death metal powerhouse behind the kit gave much more aggression and precision to the style Michael “JJ” Wahntraum and multi-instrumentalist Matthias Sollak had honed. Harakiri for the Sky’s foundation in beautiful guitar riffs and emotive vocals suddenly found bludgeoning rhythm support. This apparently gave them the confidence to drop an hour-and-a-half followup. While its length can be felt at times, Mære is a compelling next step for a band fresh off hitting a new stride.
The key components of Harakiri for the Sky shine brilliantly on the album’s three singles. Opener “I, Pallbearer” introduces the core formula: a slow-burning crescendo to a sprinting blast beat, driven by melodious guitar leads and hysteric screams. From forlorn piano interludes to blackened post-metal explosions, the band’s delicacy, aggression and immensity take full effect. “Sing For The Damage We've Done” spotlight’s this potent approach by juxtaposing Alcest frontman Neige’s distinct singing with some truly obliterating black metal borages. Indeed, Lechner’s propulsive double-bass drumming propels the triumphant tremolo-picking, dancing arpeggios and harmonic detours of “And Oceans Between Us.”
Harakiri for the Sky's instrumentation sports incredible precision, but that doesn’t hinder the album’s raw, dynamic chemistry. The love-sick waltz of “Us Against December Skies” rides soaring melodies into an abyssal sunset, while “I'm All About The Dusk” contrasts its somber half-time feel with a chug-heavy breakdown (of sorts) and even a janky syncopated passage on par with the ‘90s screamo elite. Harakiri for the Sky’s skillful arrangements would succeed in combining the coldness of black metal with the warmness post-rock and the energy of post-hardcore, even if he didn’t have a versatile drummer for support. This is encapsulated on “Three Empty Words,” which traverses fairly straight-forward black metal, galloping punk, and spacious ambiance by tastefully recontextualizing tight-knit, catchy motifs.
Harakiri for the Sky’s emotional impact finds completion in JJ’s vocals and lyrics. His screams have a hectic, damaged aura—almost in direct contrast to the dialed-in guitars and drums. His storytelling has plenty of room to develop on a 10-and-a-half minute track like “Once Upon A Winter,” forming tales of existential woe (“It’s strange why autumn is so beautiful/ Yet everything starves, everything dies”) with piercing rays of hope (“Cause though I’m often in the depths of misery There’s still calmness/ There’s still music inside me”). It’s that fervent narrative thrust that keeps these 85 minutes surprisingly engaging.
There’s always a dynamic shift, harmonic counterpoint, or rhythm break to freshen up this album’s flow, like how “Time Is A Ghost” retains a profound, layered atmosphere after stripped-back acoustics build to some of the album’s most direct and punchy riffs. JJ’s sorrowful, yet thoughtful vocals don’t lose their pertinence either: “I lost something I never had/ But yet it hurts as bad/ Cause those who were seen dancing/ Were thought to be insane.” “Silver Needle – Golden Dawn” and closer “Song To Say Goodbye” do get fairly predictable, but Harakiri for the Sky’s combination of JJ’s intensive cries, Sollak’s rousing riffage, and Lechner’s unrelenting percussion is really hard to get tired of.
As daunting as the length might seem, Mære is an album that stays its welcome with grace and excellence. It’s a great credit to Harakiri for the Sky that their approach remains compelling while locked into a recognizable format, simply because it has yet to stop sounding great. If these guys continue bringing this caliber of artistry to the table, they could pull off albums even longer than this!