I don’t know if the fact that Seattle, WA melodic black/death band Hoth derived their name and much of the narrative content of their songs from the Star Wars franchise helped or hindered their career. Bands have forever taken inspiration from the media they love, and galaxies far, far away and don’t seem so alien when compared to the veritable glut of bands and albums trading favors off well-established fantasy literature. In the end more often than not it’s a framework to hang some righteous riffing on, so the question really should be: does new album Astral Necromancy, regardless of its conceptual conceit, adorn itself with worthwhile bling or is it all just tricks of the light?
Since 2012 the band have been playing a rough hybrid of atmospheric, melodic black metal mixed with heavy doses of death and even power metal to wrap their narrative concepts. There’s still some confusion as to whether Infinite Darkness counts as a demo or an actual album: it has a rough hewn aggression that I like, and songs like “Drowned by the Dianoga” and “Interstellar Gargantuan Space Slug” benefit from not sounding too polished, allowing the overt black metal to mix in with the more dynamic power elements to create something fun: there’s no denying the thrill of a brutal breakdown accompanied by a song title like “Torn Asunder by a Wampa.”
By the time of 2014’s Oathbreaker the chops had been honed to a razor’s edge, and the overt references to Lucas’s universe were put aside for a more ambiguous story (though a quick read of the lyrics show it’s maybe not too far from the source at all). The music is still decidedly in the blackened death camp, but those power elements – mainly a keen sense of melody and some folk-ish interludes – keep things from sounding too dour. If there’s a complaint to be had, it’s that the production gave the songs a muted, bland quality that’s at odds with the musicianship. Songs like “The Unholy Conception” and “Unending Power” have a vicious streak that can’t be obscured, and when they let their power out like on “Acolyte of the Tenebrous Night” it’s a welcome deviation.
Unfortunately a thin, tepid production really mars Astral Necromancy. Bass is almost non-existent, and the drums lack power and punch, opting to really emphasize the symbol work and relegate the kick and toms to support. From a playing perspective everything is top-notch, and you can feel some of the songs yearning to break free from their constraints, particularly “Citadel of the Necromancer” which could be a punishing track if it wasn’t drained of its life-force. Opening track “Vengeance” has a nice hook and chorus, but all the bite’s been removed. I feel like the second half of the album fares a bit better, with the sequence of “The Gathering of the Accursed Artifacts,” “Ascension,” and “Journey into the Eternal Winter” with its very folk/power vibe to succeed in wrangling some life from the production. It should be as hard as it is, because the execution is great: there’s nothing that’s bad on Astral Necromancy, but there’s nothing that really jumps and clamors for your attention, either.
There’s no denying the talent Hoth can bring to bear on a song, and it’s a marvel they don’t sink from their many far out space concepts. But to have each record get progressively worse from a production standpoint isn’t doing the band or Astral Necromancy any favors. Your mileage may vary, though, and there’s enough here to make me root that one day they’ll find a heavy, worthy mix for their sound.
Until then, I’ll be going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters.