Sunday, September 13, 2015

Album Review: Huntress - "Static"

In speaking with Huntress’ leading dynamo Jill Janus a couple years back, she explained in detail how the band had crafted an idea for a sort of neopagan or Wiccan trilogy, centered around the concept of the Triple Goddess – the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone.  Going in order, that makes the band’s new release “Static” the Crone, being their third full studio album to date, and Janus and company live up to the promise of a record that rails and howls against the dying light of the waning moon.

From the jump, Janus puts her impressive vocal range to the fore, belting out surprisingly high and virile measures from her slight frame for opener “Sorrow” and “Flesh.”  The musical accompaniment beneath her vocal panoply is appropriately rugged, turning up the distortion just so much as to be threatening under the veneer of even Janus’ flighty vocals.

But what makes “Static” stand apart from the band’s previous albums “Spell Eater” and “Starbound Beast” is the infused sense of urgency.  There’s a desperate anger branded into the very flesh of these songs, the kind of semi-blind striking out that not only fits perfectly into the greater theme of the Crone, but also would have made Dylan Thomas proud.  There is a palpable sense of fury and regret and Janus slashes her way through “Brian,” a song almost certainly about somebody but representative of a greater sense of loss and pain at the end of a relationship or a life.

Produced at least in part by James A. Rota of Fireball Ministry, his musical influence meshes well into the established goal of the Huntress trilogy’s endgame; to represent an anguished soul striving for a little more time and exacting retribution on those who wronged her.  “Mania” is a long, twisting diatribe of hurt that weaves in many different influences and colors, but the middle third is where it’s not so difficult to detect the burning, thick guitar tones and cadences of Rota’s primary band in the lining.  The addition lends the experience of “Static” a certain authenticity as the last, vengeful gasp of a fading goddess.

We experience the same kind of churning rhythm for much of the album’s back half, be it the quasi-thrash of “Harsh Times on Planet Stoked” or the slugging punch of “Noble Savage.”  Huntress’ consistency is thorough and well-orchestrated.  There are no outliers on “Static” and each individual track, even the ‘happy’ ones, stick to the overall tone of the album.

The only thing “Static” is really missing in terms of execution is a unified, killer single.  There’s not one of the ten tracks (twelve depending on which version you buy,) that stands solidly above the rest to command attention, which isn’t fatal by any means, but does mean that the whole experience melds together into one long piece perhaps a shade too easily.

In addition, while “Static” commits to its presentation and executes with style and aplomb, the emotional toll of the album isn’t especially exacting.  Janus’ performance is uniformly good and there’s nothing wrong with the music that accompanies it (and sometimes outshines it!) but if the listener is seeking an album that truly evokes the clawing pain of a life lashing out, “Static,” while painting a convincing picture, doesn’t quite hit that button in same way that say, Alice In Chains’ “Dirt” does.

With all that, though, let’s not sound too down – “Static” is Huntress’ finest record to date, and is enjoyable in that same way that many believe “The Empire Strikes Back” to be the best “Star Wars” movie.  The writhing and vitriol of Janus’ Crone takes the band in a direction that is similar to their traditional heavy metal roots of years past, but adds depth and dimension to the performance.  Fans of THM in particular will enjoy the record, but most everyone will find a little something to like.

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