It’s been a long almost six years since the last time So Hideous graced us with a new record. The New York City based outfit blasted into critical favor with a style truly all their own on 2016’s Laurestine, and it seemed like there was no stopping the momentum they had built, but then…silence. A lot happened personally in the meantime, but the good news is that the band is back and refocused on None but a Pure Heart Can Sing, an album that is thankfully not merely a rehashing of old ideas, but a complete refreshing of their sound.
The appeal of So Hideous has always laid firmly in their ability to blend so many genres together to make one cohesive unit, one that draws deep from the well of emotion. Combining black metal, screamo, post-hardcore and orchestral compositions, their songs flow with equal amounts of grace, beauty, chaos and heartache. The core of So Hideous has remained intact post-hiatus, consisting of mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Cruz, his brother Christopher Cruz on vocals and bass and guitarist and friend Etienne Vasquez. For None but a Pure Heart Can Sing, the trio expands into a quintet by successfully recruiting the rhythm section of The Number Twelve Looks Like You (aka The Number Twelve), to great effect. There are quite a number of differences between None but a Pure Heart and Laurestine, and most of them have to do with the rhythms the band incorporates. Says Brandon Cruz, “I think we still have the foundation of what we laid before, being influenced largely by Japanese post-metal bands Mono and Envy, and composers such as Arvo Part and Max Richter. We wanted more rhythm this time and we expanded outward to include influences from Fela Kuti and Tony Allen’s Afrobeat percussion, James Brown’s horn section, and the balladry of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. It was also nice to finally experiment a bit with more Penderecki-style tone clusters and glissando on the more dissonant sections.” If that sounds like a lot of styles mashed together, you’d be right, but the blend between them is both seamless and so deft that you can pick each one out of the sonic crowd and appreciate it by itself.
Fans of So Hideous should be relieved to know that the orchestral elements that have been a major part of their sound return, albeit in a more pared down way. Instead of a 30-piece orchestra, the band employs a string section and horns, but this honing of these aspects of their sound allows them to shine brightly and clearly in the mix. The strings add the necessary dramatic elements that evoke deep emotions, and the horns serve to introduce a lot of the funk and world music elements that are brand new to So Hideous’ sound. In particular, lead single “The Emerald Pearl” showcases an awesome blend of artsy blackened hardcore and horns that sound ripped from James Brown’s nightmares backed up by a grooving, percussive beat. It’s truly inspiring to listen to just how well all these elements blend together; there have been a lot of attempts to blend world music into metal, and while there have been notable triumphs, few have succeeded as well as So Hideous does here. Overall, None but a Pure Heart strikes me as more aggressive and angry than their previous efforts, but there is still plenty of the saccharine beauty to be found here. Bookend tracks “Souvenir” and “From Now” both use gorgeous string melodies to great effect, and Christopher Cruz’s howling vocals stir up lots of profound emotions. Still, None but a Pure Heart represents a true evolution in terms of So Hideous’ music, and one that I hope they continue to expand on in the future.
There’s always one December release that threatens to shake up my year-end thoughts, and None but a Pure Heart Can Sing is definitely that album. The only thing I would change about it is to make it longer. A runtime barely over 30 minutes only leaves me desperately wanting more at the end of each listen. Hopefully it won’t be another six years before we get it.