Double albums are always a difficult product to swallow in one sitting, so doing a System of a Down and staggering their release is a crafty move it’s a surprise fewer acts haven’t cottoned on to.
On face value it wasn’t even apparent that 2014’s ‘Earthwalker’ was going to be followed by a second part, but Australian metalcore crew In Hearts Wake had recorded a whole other album in the same sessions. The other half of the lofty concept based on various cultures’ ideas of humanity acting as the bridge between Mother Earth and Father Sky, the punishing ‘Skydancer’ predictably acts as the more punishing, masculine counterpoint to its predecessor. This results in clear differences both positive and negative, but at the same time very obvious threads unite the two. Both feature more pared-back instrumentals at their beginning, centre and conclusion, and both are built primarily of chorus-centric, distinctly Byron Bay metalcore.
The Parkway Drive with arena rock cleans formula could easily prove tiresome across the course of ‘Skydancer’, but as on its sister album the quality of the songwriting ensures this doesn’t happen. Many of the songs do follow simple screamed verse/sung chorus structures (“Breakaway” cleverly inverting this) and do put firm emphasis on vocals over music. Crucially, Jake Taylor’s as intense a harsh vocalist as they come and bassist Kyle Erich delivers a raft of earworm choruses. Lyrically the themes of environmentalism and humanity’s place in the world are tackled with the appropriate gravitas, if let down by the occasional clunker of a phrase and the spoken sections toward the end of the record that invariably fall flat (the Hacktivist vocalists’ guest spot on “Erase” more enjoyable if a tad gratuitous).
In Hearts Wake prove time and again that they can tackle the genre with the utmost gusto and ability, but even more exciting are the more experimental tracks. “Wildfire” opens with a sprightly lead riff before its gallop and roll reignites the album’s momentum after shuddering pseudo-djent instrumental “Oblivion”. Even better is brilliant groove metal black sheep “Badlands”, dripping with menace and attitude that sets it a cut above the rest of the material here. Not every wildcard comes up trumps, the Emmure-esque chug-a-thon “Cottonmouth” sticking out like a diseased sore thumb, but the variation within the album is otherwise hugely welcome, elevating a potentially good metalcore album to a great one that goes beyond its roots.
Short piece “Father” wraps the thematics up nicely – matching “Mother” from ‘Earthwalker’ – and acts as an atmospheric comedown at the same time, neatly bringing an end to an album that lacks some of the nuances of its sister record but makes up for it with sheer belligerent force of will. ‘Skydancer’ is both a coherent, hugely enjoyable album in its own right and the perfect extension of what came before it. Australian metalcore has seen more than its fair share of successful exports in recent years, In Hearts Wake succeeding in setting themselves apart through the scale of their ambition and quality of songwriting.