Album Title: Solitary
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 25 June 2021
If you’re wondering exactly why I’m reviewing this particular record, it’s because of this:
“This massive melodic death metal assault leaves no scope for weakness and serves an exciting take on the genre with hymnlike melodies, enthralling drums and guitar riffing as well as breathtaking hooklines. Topped with the distinctive and versatile performance of Britta Görtz, this powerful new formation and its debut is a must have for fans of bands like Insomnium, At The Gates, Arch Enemy and Amon Amarth.”
To be clear, I always take the press release hyperbole with a pinch of salt; their job is to sell records and get us hacks to review their artists. And it worked, because I couldn’t resist checking out this debut album from Germany’s Hiraes, if anything to find out for myself how accurate or otherwise this bold statement actually is. To put it bluntly, curiosity got the better of me.
Hiraes, apparently a name derived from the Welsh word ‘hiraeth’ used to describe the nostalgia of a place or home that never was, formed relatively recently from the ashes of Dawn of Disease, another band I know precious little about. Nevertheless, they are comprised of vocalist Britta Görtz (Critical Mass, ex-Cripper), guitarists Lukas Kerk and Oliver Kirchner, bassist Christian Wösten, and drummer Mathias Blässe. On all platforms, the band proudly declare their music to be nothing other than melodic death metal. No ‘core’, no ‘prog’, no pretence.
After a first listen, I’m happy to declare that this is easily better than the last few Arch Enemy records in my opinion, so the only real similarity to the Swedish band is that they both boast a female singer. So that’s the first inaccuracy of the aforementioned press release. I’m not sure I hear a lot of At The Gates either, so that’s strike two.
But, to counteract this, I do definitely hear some Insomnium and Amon Amarth, not to mention an In Flames influence, somewhere around the ‘Colony’ or ‘Clayman’ era. The best example of this can be heard within ‘Grain Of Sand’ which offers a passing resemblance to ‘Pinball Map’ from the aforementioned ‘Clayman’ record, complete with similar gratuitous key change late on for added epicness if that’s even a word.
And this might just be the Achilles Heel to Hiraes, in that they lack a little of their own identity – ‘Solitary’ does not really alter the melodeath landscape in any appreciable way and they wear their influences boldly on their collective sleeves. Some might also accuse Hiraes of playing it too safe.
Nevertheless, I would also agree that this is an album that delivers on heaviness and melody; it’s a chunky beast where each of the nine songs feels like a weighty slab of heavy metal, uncomplicated and to the point. The musicians are very competent across the board, but no-one steals the spotlight, or tries to do something out of the ordinary to rock what is a tightly honed ship. It would be unfair to suggest that the music is simple so to speak, but it is focussed, and regardless of a few reservations, it does deliver some thoroughly entertaining and satisfying melodic death metal along the way.
‘Under Fire’ for example is a bona fide melodeath anthem. It kicks off with a memorable melody created primarily by the lead guitar lines, before exploding in a flurry of blastbeat-led fury. The pace alters again to deliver a chunky, stop-start riff allowing Görtz’s voice to take centre stage. And then there’s the chorus, which is one hefty beast, immediately satisfying and entertaining.
Then there are tracks like ‘1000 Lights’ which kicks off with a mid-tempo stomping riff reminiscent of Amon Amarth, but builds upon this with some well-placed orchestration, giving the song more of a symphonic feel. It isn’t a breakdown as such, but there’s also an unashamedly groovy section that starts off slow but speeds up to increase the intensity. Interestingly, it is a catchy track, but it doesn’t feature a hook-laden chorus as such. I like this, as well as enjoying the burst of ferocity at the death of the song.
Elsewhere, I rather like the injection of more poignant melancholy within ‘Eyes Over Black’, as well as the ‘hidden’ and unexpected piano piece at the end of the final song ‘Running Out Of Time’, a song that, regardless, is a thoroughly satisfying final hurrah. The melodies are really great, and it has a more pronounced blackened death influence running through it. As such, the Insomnium references loom largest within this composition than anywhere else on the album.
As I listen for the umpteenth time, I am plagued with a feeling that ‘Solitary’ might lack enough longevity, as this music is designed to give an instant hit of heaviness and memorability rather than test the listener. I like the music quite a bit now, but I do wonder how often it’ll return to the playlist once I move on to other albums. My fears may be completely unfounded, but it’s something I consider, nonetheless. In the here and now though, I can do nothing other than praise Hiraes for a job well done. ‘Solitary’ is definitely worthy of the time and attention of anyone who enjoys heavy but accessible and melodic death metal.
The Score of Much Metal: 85%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: