Gonna admit to some bias here — I am a huge fan of Hope Drone and their unique style of blackened post-metal. I’ve been waiting for Void Lustre for longer than I’ve known its name. As soon as I saw the announcement I started hammering on Josh here at Nine Circles to find me the promo. When he delivered, I dropped literally everything I was doing (I was supposed to be finishing the Falls of Rauros review), hit play on the album, and immediately wrote out my stream of consciousness reaction, which forms the basis for this review. Cloak of Ash tore me apart and put me back together broken, and I was sure that it was an album that would be impossible to top. I was wrong.
Hope Drone is a band that can be hard to categorize because their unique style of intense wall-of-noise metal isn’t easily described, let alone classified. There’s an intensity and rawness to their music which often feels less like it was composed and more like they channeled their emotion directly into music. The mind boggles at the idea of consciously choosing to write music like this. Melancholy and doom-laden, it segues between blisteringly intense tremolo and evocatively profound lead phrasing. It often borders on the realm of blackgaze. At the same time, it contains layered oscillations of intensity, from the macro of songs changing from slow to fast and back, to the micro of tremolo effects on most of the guitars. Tying the whole thing together is a masterful layer of synths which blend in so deeply they can be easy to miss.
Void Lustre is a notable departure from Cloak of Ash. Where Cloak of Ash was bleak and depressing, Void Lustre is angry. I understand when people don’t appreciate Cloak of Ash, because it’s an hour and seventeen minutes of constant and unrelenting bleakness, like being pounded by a hurricane whose eye never passes overhead. It’s an album of long songs that grind you down to the very nub of a soul, before remaking you in its own image. Void Lustre uses a different tactic. It wants you to be mad. It wants you to recognize that we have limited time on this earth and that is what gives life meaning. It wants you to fight. Where their first album, Hope Drone, felt like accepting what we have in store, and Cloak of Ash felt like being crushed under the weight of the world, Void Lustre feels like demanding something better than we’ve been handed.
The first thing that strikes me about Void Lustre is the heavy use of dynamics and morphing tempos. Songs attempt to lure you into turning up your volume, at your peril. The intro of “Being Into Nothingness” showcases this perfectly, starting quietly and setting a stage which slowly evolves, getting louder and louder, while the tempo builds. Eventually the wall of sound is unleashed. Restrained snare blasts, unwilling to hold out for a full bar, punctuate those dynamics. Drummer Francil Keil does things I’ve never heard anyone else do before. The drums are a controlled cacophony, madness harnessed into form and function, and they form a clear backbone holding everything else together. If you listen closely, sometimes he even taps out what feels like a hidden theme on the hi-hat.
“Forged By The Tide” showcases the band’s mixing prowess. The lead guitar blasts you with piercing treble, tone ragged with a razor-sharp edge, modeled after the piercing cry of a banshee that lusts after your very soul, while the rhythm guitar strains on the very threshold of tearing reality. Layers upon layers of delay and reverb compound the mix, driving the post-hardcore vocals to another realm. The stereo mix is extreme, pitting each guitar against the other, a war of sound and destruction. The drums surround it all, holding it together, while the bass thrashes in the center. Synths filter through if you focus hard enough, and are a constant support. It’s a marvel that despite the density of the mix, you can still pick out those individual elements.
If you listen to this album back to back with Cloak of Ash, it almost feels like the third act of a play. The intro of Void Lustre feels like it continues the emotional momentum from Cloak of Ash, before settling into the growing rage which permeates the rest of the album. Never is this more at play than the intro to “In Floods & Depths” which starts out with the purest black metal I’ve ever heard from a Hope Drone album. But this time, there’s an emotional progression to the album. There’s breathing room in the songs, moments of neutrality to allow recovery and prepare yourself for the next wave. The last song, “In Shifting Lights,” even offers a hint of hope, before running the emotional gamut of anger, rage, weariness, and calm serenity, and then ending on a twisted mimicry of the hope it sprouted from.
The album ends with a tremolo drone bending in and out of tune. I don’t know what it means, but I’m glad it’s there. Hope Drone have done a thing I was sure was impossible. They matched, and possibly even exceeded, Cloak of Ash. These may be the best two back to back albums ever released, as far as I’m concerned. When I finished my first listen to this album, I felt as if I drew breath for the first time in an hour. And now my long wait begins, for whatever they do next.
I hope it’s soon.