HAUNTER – Discarnate Ails (2022)REVIEW

A cryptomnesiac attaining purpose within past life erasure rather than regression Austin, Texas-based progressive black/death metal quartet Haunter waltz beyond their field of corpse-like husk hosts and begin to embody their own transcendental entity within this third shockingly brief yet condensed full-length album. ‘Discarnate Ails‘ admirably subverts the indulgence of the prog-rock sized opus for the sake of a more direct channel cut towards the listener, deliquescing their finest traits and still-developing signature into a trio of poison-darted pieces. What’d seem like a breeze at first wheel-thru soon becomes a vortex in cyclic revolve — Spin after spin, it’ll be the passion of the ear engaged that’ll decide what amount of damage is incurred.

Don’t get too twisted over extreme metal fandom’s lack of distinction between post-black metal, blackened metalcore, and uh, the clumsy Orchid-adjacent sound of Haunter‘s screamo debut demo ‘He Who Jumps Into the Void Owes No Explanation to Those Who Stand and Watch‘ back in 2014. These are worlds that weren’t at all built to understand one another beyond their shared dissociative abstraction of traditional forms into purely emotional vent. The trivia of “they used to be screamo” isn’t as compelling as it seems on a surface level ’til we start looking at their follow-up tape (‘διαδήλωση‘, 2015) and see a readable progression from scene apropos point A to amorphous and indeterminate point B^-1, rather than an outright sea-change. The scrambled aesthetics and avant-dissonant burl of it all wouldn’t resolve to a readable non-metalcore derived rhythmic standard ’til long after their debut album (‘Thrinodia‘, 2016) had pulled a small army of ears into the abstract quasi-black metal realm beyond what groups like Celeste had already managed with albums like ‘Nihiliste(s)‘ several years prior. It was the Austin-based band’s second full-length ‘Sacramental Death Qualia‘ (2019) that’d rightfully turned heads with its progressive blackened death metal verve, still somewhat reliant upon dissonance in build of its aggressive-leaning phrasing yet sprawling in a uniquely chill atmospheric setting far, far from the tortured headspace of their debut. If you’d followed along and lost the thread, good, there’ll be no real salvage gained from looking back beyond 2019.

Discarnate Ails‘ is next to nothing like Haunter‘s prior record in terms of its well-condensed experience landing at just over half an hour, excising most of their long-winded ‘My Arms, Your Hearse‘-isms to a minimum while outpacing the cosm-atmospheric realm introduced on ‘Sacramental Death Qualia‘ with a freshly aggressive-yet-surreal self arisen. Since there are only three pieces to dissect, with each bearing its own formidable vignette, it’ll be the sort of experience which is easily protracted into lofty exposition but needlessly so on my part. *lofty exposition continues here* The major statement is that their realm has shrunken to that of dramatic temporal illness, a higher-impact vision which redacts their sprawl of enthusiastic treatments into one very succinct set triage of modern progressive blackened death movements. That isn’t to say they’ve cut the fat and thrown out their ol’ roadmap to rhythm, only reworked their heavier movements to align closer with a sound I’d suggest as mildly influenced by the economy of notes enjoyed by darkest psychedelia-wafting labelmates Suffering Hour (see: “Chained at the Helm of the Eschaton”) rather than the river of ominous zen-gardening aplenty prior. Is it a case of less is more offering greater distinction to an evolving platform, or, less simply not being enough? Kinda both, but not in a bad way.

Haunter are still proffering an alien form here but going against the olde Opethian instinct of progressive metal’s excess elaboration, wherein more is more (ouevre + x2 = better) and the listener is won over by the attrition of extended immersion rather than cutting to a set of succinctly stated pieces worth mulling over. These are perhaps punks or raw souled fellowes at heart and they’ve only put together such a scholarly avant-garde work for the sake of emotionally satisfying results, not so much cockish voyeurism. In this sense ‘Discarnate Ails‘ hands the exploration of profundity to the listener within three unevenly spaced temporal surges of varying prog-metallic density, matching each with similarly dramatic impulse yet offering no performative, repetitive overstatement to make sure the lowest common denominator can’t miss it. The result is an easily studied yet amorphous creature presented with enough detail that an exploration, beyond a cursory ride, will almost always produce some manner of insight beyond their cryptic presentation.

Lushly layered, well-rendered and even a bit imposingly performed there is little Haunter could do to mess up such a fine palette of sound design and abstract structural feats and I suppose it’d sunk in that this was a stab at higher potency after a few more listens. The characteristic eerie found within each of Haunter‘s past selves is intact but with a clearest directive in mind as opener “Overgrown with the Moss” insists to start. This first scene’s blackened rasps have a bit more menace in their gut-grabbing emission, giving way to deeply growled death metal stature which brings a more burly, chasmic station to their narrative. By ~3:15 minutes in we are fully set within a firestorm landscape of (again) very modern atmospheric and progressive death rhythm, achieving its surreal revelations by way of motion-sick movement that is surprisingly tactful and directive, not just the usual “piano thrown down a spiral staircase” songwriting we’ve come to expect from dissonant death metal outliers; Though it’ll sound far too abstract in suggestion, the ‘skinned alive’ feeling the full listen left me with in progression from “Psychic Illness” unto “Chained at the Helm of Eschaton” wouldn’t sink in until long after the awe of its chasmic roaring deeds had struck their deepest blows, I’d experience the short and tumultuous journey of ‘Discarnate Ails‘ as a tormented and anxietous soak within a greater storm of existential dread. If there is an intended feeling conveyed, an ominous skin-crawling malaise is my suggestion, at least.

Beyond the disturbing full body high achieved, the easily repeated full listen, and the admirably restrained execution of this recording the appeal of ‘Discarnate Ails‘ obviously extends into the aesthetic realm with Elijah Tamu‘s cover artwork and the greater gatefold being inarguably one of the best from extreme metal this year. The scale of the piece is fittingly imagined alongside the work itself and the fact that the artist’s hand can be seen within the logo in fine accompaniment ties it all together beautifully. Less is certainly more here, yet less is cruelly not enough in that I’m left hoping Haunter‘ll have another half hour of this magnitude around the corner soon enough. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Discarnate Ails
LABEL(S):Profound Lore Records
RELEASE DATE:May 6th, 2022


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