The very concept of being overtly ambitious amidst clichéd parable of over-zealous youth being portrayed as mentally deranged and destined to fail is a product of severely enforced generational control, and pronounced jealousy, among all walks of life. It allows the genetically predispositioned, the gifted, and the outrageous to be stuffed and strangled down to the level of societal expectations and in no part of the civilized world does a young man escape the limitations imposed by others. Class, caste, order and conformity are inescapable damnation for the exploding minds of youths the world over and therein lies the torment of every new generation. Boned with wax the feathered wing is destined to crumble under any extreme unless the extremophile adapts their very being to thrive within amazing highs or debilitating lows and there are assuredly those archaea among us; Otherwise the existence of a band like Haunt, or predecessor Beastmaker, would appear forever freakish in their dauntless ambition and relentlessly prepared output where a new and glorious adaptation appears every several months. ‘If Icarus Could Fly’ is a personal defiance by design, an immediate and crucial evolution for Haunt that finds the band doubly electric in their exploration of exquisitely executed 80’s heavy metal and hard rock guitar finesse atop serenades to future-seekers and those living with a great weight upon their winged shoulders.
Confusion over release dates, street dates, early digital releases and such aside… In any part of the world most folks have had a full two months to dissect, feel, and explore ‘If Icarus Could Fly’ thanks to a mid-March digital release. I’ve abstained with my thoughts for quite some time for the sake of celebrating the physical release of the album. Not to appear pompous or righteous but because I believe there is something to be said for enjoying what is unarguably a ‘retro’-futuristic heavy metal album on a physical format. There is perhaps no clear rival for Fresno, Californian troupe Haunt in the realm of modern musicians tackling the works of early 80’s hard rock/heavy metal innovators and that is stating it a bit too plainly in lieu of how vibrant the quintet’s take on classic heavy music is. To physically grasp the record, smell its dustless folds and give it a good spin is an important part of taking in an album that, despite any negative connotations you might feel, is retro as hell. If you thought Trevor William Church (Beastmaker, Church Recordings) had nailed the Ozzy Osbourne-meets-Thin Lizzy guitar harmony-o-rama on ‘Burst Into Flames’ (2018) and then outdid himself twofold on the ‘Mosaic Vision’ (2019) EP back in January then bump that multiple up to thrice on ‘If Icarus Could Fly’.
Today we might remember the ghost of Randy Rhoads‘ Flying V with too-brightly rose colored earplugs with his harmonious neoclassically inspired shredding and unmistakable tone. To be realistic, with respect to the legendary rock musician, it came and went so quickly never to be successfully iterated upon within any mainstream capacity since. It makes great sense that we see so many children born in the 90’s turning back to the biggest works of the 80’s with wonder, despite those of us born in the 80’s still cringing at our childhood photos and memories. It was a glossy, freakish age of protest and outrage from the outside looking in. I suppose if you don’t yet understand the dangers of cocaine addiction and alcohol abuse the music of the 80’s is probably far more life-affirming than much of the self-hating 90’s, too. To top it all off the guitarists were incredible front-to-back, even down the most morally bereft poofy-haired LA rock bands. Rhoads‘ contributions are admired, celebrated and expanded upon by Church within Haunt to be sure (“Winds of Destiny”, “Run and Hide”) but there are hints of the early dual guitar driven Iron Maiden years (“If Icarus Could Fly”) and the White/Gorham records from Thin Lizzy in the early 80’s as well (“Ghosts”, “Clarion”). Church‘s vocal register makes this even more clear as he sticks within a very rigid Lynott-esque vocal design with quadruple layered harmonization behind most every line. Those sleepy vocal and the shockingly skilled guitar-forward compositions make for a sound that is emotionally understated but directly thrilling at once.
Looking back on my slightly confused review for ‘Mosaic Vision’ I will say that some of those songs might’ve been smartly traded out for a select few same-sounding tracks included on ‘If Icarus Could Fly’. Sure, “Clarion” and “Defender” are not out of place in the full listen but they’re somewhat inconsequential for an album that could use some sort of bold shift in mood, pace or style. Church‘s guitar work is so thrilling it was easy to (initially) overlook the somewhat repetitive nature of some of the song structures within. A ballad, a ripping speed metal instrumental, a dueling solo grind, or an out of left field “Planet Caravan” moment will be that extra level of variation that’ll take such an enthusiastic record an extra notch above. To be fair, Haunt are already a step above the usual comparisons (Cauldron, Skull Fist or Night Demon) anymore thanks to the beautifully adept lead guitar work that sells the shit out of this album. There is yet room for improvement and refined iteration all the same and I’d be surprised if the next cuts aren’t on their way to done already.
Anthemic songwriting and virtuosic guitar work are generally enough to carry any traditional heavy metal album and in this sense Haunt are a few steps above average despite a relatively low range of variation on the full listen. On one hand I could often listen to ‘If Icarus Could Fly’ four or five times in full without hesitation or skipping a single track, on the other hand I’d likely put the record down for a week after. I don’t know if that speaks to my own strange listening habits or to the record itself but I found it highly repeatable. A slick and entertaining heavy metal album that is easily picked up and enjoyed is an easy recommendation and Haunt have topped themselves with ‘Icarus Could Fly’. Highly recommended. For preview I’d suggest jumping right to my favorite track Haunt have written so far “Winds of Destiny” as it bleeds ‘Diary of a Madman’ of any remaining blood, and then the inspirational duo of “Run and Hide” & “It’s In My Hands”.
With the zenith in sight. 4.25/5.0
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