I was struggling to find the word that best described my feelings about Harakiri for the Sky in general, and new album Arson in particular. I finally came upon precise. There’s something about the Austrian duo’s new album that feels razor sharp, not only in execution and production but in intent. Having shed music of its black metal trappings, Arson shoots for an emotional full on melodic death hybrid that’s pristine and singular in focus, if perhaps slightly overdone.
Listening to how full the songs on the album are, its interesting to recall the band originated as a studio-only project in 2011. With “M.S.” handling the songwriting and music and “J.J.” handling vocals and lyrics, their self-titled debut and sophomore effort Aokigahara already had the earmarks that would come to define the band, if a little more raw and extreme. Long tracks, emphasis on melody, cleaner, almost shoegaze-y (I hesitate to call it blackgaze) elements coloring the post-black punishment. Tracks like “Burning From Both Ends” and “2:19 AM, Psychosis” highlight the blend of styles the band tries to imbue with each release.
But for me it really wasn’t until 2016’s III: Trauma that the combination of ambition and execution congealed. But it’s also where I simultaneously began to drop a little bit – with a length of almost 75 minutes, there’s a tendency for the tracks to go a little too long. There’s a hypnotic quality to some doom and black metal and even drone where repetition lulls you into a state where you fall in with the music. And it works on tracks like opener “Calling the Rain” which has enough dynamics to never feel like it’s repeating itself. But going straight through the album, I found myself more drifting and coming back to tracks rather than falling into them.
It’s an issue that repeats itself on Arson. There’s not a single fault I can give to the technicality on display: every song is robust and driving and meticulously arranged. But by minute seven when I want songs like “Fire, Walk With Me” and “You Are the Scars” to wrap up, I just get another minute or so of exactly what I had before. Sections repeat once again, go to another previously stated section: rinse and repeat. I’m already counting the number of comments giving me the virtual finger for my supposed short attention span, but the truth is the brightness and – again – pristine nature of what both Arson and its predecessor do don’t naturally lend themselves to the song lengths, at least for me. I’m not hiking some trail looking for the perfect environment to listen to this: I’m looking for this music to transport me to that perfect place in my head, whether I’m outside on a trail in the woods or in my office looking at a dead screen.
It’s not a condemnation, more a resignation because there’s a good 6-7 minutes on each track I really, really dig. The 1-3 punch of “Heroin Waltz,” “Tomb Omnia” and “Stillborn” are probably my favorite things on Arson. Likewise closer “Manifesto” works to inject new life with female vocals and a running time of under five minutes. It’s a bit of an odd choice for a closer, but the fact we get a new facet of the band is a welcome choice, even as it closes out the listening experience.
A little judicious trimming here and there, a small tightening of the tracks and Arson can be one of the standout releases of the last few years, let alone 2018. As it is, I’ll take this and the rest of Harakiri for the Sky’s work in smaller doses, and marvel at what I hear, right up until I drift off again. Right around minute eight.