The panegyric, uplifting-yet-mournful tonality of post-black metal duo Harakiri For the Sky almost begins to call for the suffering of the determined self-eulogist as they appear unapologetically chronic, still deeply affected after a full decade of pleas to the plight of existence, and despite triumphant renown. This shoegazing, sore perspective might shift to empathy in address of the dissolution of others, or detail the ever present threat of a re-collapsing ‘self’ but the end result is yet music that celebrates its identity as a member of the paralytic haunted soul in process of depression, anxiety, and the everlasting mark of post-trauma. The Austrian bands fifth full-length ‘Mӕre‘ excels as emotional extreme metal music for the sake of this perpetually cathartic state yet it also demonstrates the consistent growth of these two major actors as musicians over time. Consider it a pre-emptive funeral dirge, celebratory and woefully tragic, of a life lived (and in the process of living) with no shortage of challenges in hand.

Formed officially in 2011 by Bifröst guitarist M.S. and soon to include Karg‘s J.J., the best way to sum up Harakiri in the Sky is a conglomeration of dark metal in the first decade of the 2000’s. This includes the distraught emotional honesty of depressive suicidal black metal, the floaty long-winded compositions of lo-fi atmospheric black metal, and the post-rock/shoegaze influences of post-black metal. A bit of Austere, a healthy amount of Agalloch and Alcest/Amesoeurs, and some of the Katatonia-adjacent ideas that bands like Forgotten Tomb brought in the early-to-mid 2000’s all informed the early days of the band (see: ‘Harakiri For the Sky‘, 2012) via long and emotionally driven post-black metal pieces. As idealistic as those suggested influences were it wasn’t until their third album (‘III: Trauma‘, 2016) that it’d start to sound like Harakiri For the Sky had gotten what they needed, at least enough to fully realize their vision and begin to reign in their long and demanding compositions. It’d be fair to point out that just as this project hit its stride so did Karg and they’ve both been operating on an impressive scale since. It’d also be fair to suggest that a lot of post-black metal’s origin story had moved on to post-rock, indie rock, and left extreme metal elements behind as they slowly backed away from a style of music with very, very few innovators left yet countless contributors actively working various trendy angles. The ~72 minute relentlessly personal storm that was ‘Arson‘ (2018) had been the record that’d convinced me that Harakiri For the Sky sticking around and continuing to perfect their sound was a well that’d not soon dry up and I suppose an artform that can only benefit from the excesses of repetition and brutally sour melodicism that M.S. needs to flesh out his longer form ideas.

‘Mӕre’ takes us to the edge in each regard, sticking with the average 8-10 minute song length range and producing detailed depressive melodic rock inspired dirges that never shy too far from extreme metal rhythms. This is especially notable with regard to the drum performances from session musician Kerim Lechner (Septicflesh, Krimh, ex-Decapitated) whom has excelled on these last two records. To remain somewhat extreme in voicing seems to be the ticket to emphasizing the emotional register of what Harakiri For the Sky does but realistically speaking it boils down to the right combination of memorable lead guitar hooks and exasperated, ranting vocal performances. “And Oceans Between Us” is probably the strongest example of all of these elements meeting in moving centrifugal force, a heavy rock beat not far from the kick-off of Uada‘s most recent record ‘Djinn’ gives way to an immediate guitar hook and we’re ensured this is Harakiri For the Sky for the sake of the vocals providing the ranting emotional anchor for the fairly standard anthemic post-rock song structure in hand. This is prime signature for the band and it’d be fair to say that all 85 minutes of ‘Mӕre’ hit this mark.

Uncertainty, death, abandonment, and the stress of forced seclusion surely contributed to the surreal ‘anticipating the worst’ feeling that presses just a bit harder upon the skull of the listener this time around as ‘Mӕre’ was recorded in the Spring of 2020. Of course that could be my own bias in reflection of nearly a year of admittedly privileged quarantined life but it only goes to show that the terrorized emotional self-imprisonment inherent to all of Harakiri For the Sky‘s work has its practical cathartic placement when needed. Opener “I, Pallbearer” would be practically rollicking if not for that implication of dread, an anxiety that seems to fade as the very accessible collaboration with Niege (Alcest), “Sing For the Damage We’ve Done”, highlights the first half of the album with a typical but elaborately displayed example of M.S.‘s “post-rock sized depressive post-black metal” songwriting. Readable, repeatable yet never lost in it’s cups structure is what holds these 8+ minute songs together and separates this project from so many bands that attempt a similar style. I’ve long felt like this was where Forgotten Tomb might’ve gone with their sound after the first four or so albums if they’d stuck with a certain October Tide-esque strength. The best example I could use in conveyance of this idea would be the main hook for “I’m All About the Dusk”, which sounds a few generations beyond a song like “Alone” from ‘Love’s Burial Ground’ as it kicks off yet the song that develops beyond those first few minutes showcases Harakiri For the Sky‘s own approach and its continued refinement. The proggy math rock hits about ~9 minutes into the piece give a glimpse of the their tastes being pooled and considered rather than skipping over to whatever their peers might be doing.

Why do these guys persist in this style, making largely gentle modifications to their sound over time? Recognizing the strong personal value of music that portrays dissociation, the mind distraught and outside of time, and cultivating it into entertaining, touching music is not only rare but rarely earnest; The results appear fairly natural, not outwardly forced at the very least and the more of it that Harakiri For the Sky manage, the better. You can decide for yourself if you find ‘Mӕre’ believable in terms of its emotional or cathartic value. — From my own point of view they strike the right balance between remaining staunchly personal and presenting a performance that isn’t so lost in the moment that it collapses into ‘too ugly to witness’ self pity and this avoids the exploitative feeling that a lot of outwardly depressed extreme music presents. Practically speaking I’d say ‘Mӕre’ is too long and that may just be a good thing, as it helps to aid both immersion and the intended effect of getting somewhat lost in a stream of debilitating thought, a waking nightmare.

With that said, I could’ve done without the Placebo cover and “Time is A Ghost” as they’d felt tacked-on despite the rest of the tracklist being brilliantly ordered. The trio of “Three Empty Words”, “Once Upon a Winter” and the aforementioned “And Oceans Between Us” ended up being the strongest pocket of the lengthy journey. The aesthetic isn’t to my taste but the production is exactly as polished as these fellowes could ever need to be, retaining some grittiness despite the prime dynamic balance of the rendering. It won’t likely make a post-black fan of most people, at this point folks have either made up their mind about the sub-genre or they’ve recognized that Harakiri For the Sky have their own idiosyncratic dark metal influenced vision that demands patience and a taste for the occasionally sugary indie rock hook. I found the experience entirely numbing on repeat to start and then almost too engaging once I’d become familiar with each piece. I probably prefer ‘Arson’ in terms of a complete listen but some of their best songs are housed within this behemoth sized event and I figure it’ll be exactly the sort of depressive and melodramatic extreme music some folks need these days. A moderately high recommendation, much higher for the die-hard post-black/dark metal enthusiast.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
LABEL(S):AOP Records
RELEASE DATE:February 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Dark Metal,
Post-Black Metal,
Melodic Black Metal

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