The Dry Land

rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. This, Our Gospel
02. Cruelly Dawns
03. Lean Times
04. In Time, All Things
05. Rain
06. The Herbsight

Plagued by chronic illness and stifled by a pandemic, HUNTSMEN evidently had to dig their heels in to get to this point. "The Dry Land" is the Chicagoans third full-length album, and the follow-up to 2020's "Mandala of Fear": a criminally overlooked masterpiece, for those who missed the memo. Real life may have interrupted and preyed upon the band over the last few years, but the strength of their vision remains one of the great joys of contemporary heavy music.

Ostensibly a doom/post-metal unit with an appetite for wistful, dusty Americana and campfire folk, HUNTSMEN make momentous records that hide some truly subversive ideas under a densely atmospheric barrage of sound. That remains true on "The Dry Land". The spirit of this band's songs remains gentle, heartfelt and shrouded in melancholy, while their chosen means of expression — colossal, earth-moving riffs and, particularly on these new songs, capricious hints of something harder and nastier — continues to be both cinematic and intimate. Vague resemblances to other post-metal denizens aside, HUNTSMEN are a joyously unique proposition, and each time they release something new, the magic seems to grow stronger. As they rise from the ashes of obstacles and calamities faced, they sound more inspired than ever.

There is no denying that doom metal provides HUNTSMEN with much of their musical heft, but from the start, "The Dry Land" makes itself at home in all kinds of alien territories. The opening "This, Our Gospel" is simultaneously the most melodically incisive and punishingly heavy thing the band have ever done. Dark melodies are threaded through the slow, stoner grind of bulbous, lurching riffs, before HUNTSMEN shape-shift effortlessly from gothic grotesquery to starlit, desert rock meandering, and co-vocalist Aimee Bueno-Knipe harmonizes with frontman Chris Kang amid a shimmering, spaced-out reverie. Exploding back into red-blooded doom mode, the song's bittersweet hooks return and blaze away at the heart of a rumbling, SABBATH-ian crescendo. It is a jaw-dropping way to start, but one that is swiftly outstripped by "Cruelly Dawns", another folk-sludge epic, but with a psychedelic streak that runs right through its amorphous, fluid core. From windswept and grand, to urgent and frantic, it brings so many ideas together that it should be a mess, but HUNTSMEN weave everything together using their own internal logic, and it's a beautiful thing. Speaking of beauty, "Lean Times" is an acoustic hymn with a bruised heart, and a gloriously lush and extravagant second half that wrings an ocean of emotion out of the clash between punishing, gristly sludge and blissed-out, acid folk harmonies.

The biggest revelation comes when "In Time, All Things" unleashes a blizzard of blastbeats and untamed noise, albeit before settling down into something rather less confrontational. Another master class in dynamic songwriting, it pitches Bueno-Knipe's angelic soprano against bowel-rattling bass, sparkling, shoegaze guitars and, eventually, some fucking huge metal riffs. It erupts into flat-out black metal chaos, ending with a brutal, ritualistic coda that suggests that HUNTSMEN have spent some time listening to "Cop" by SWANS. Just a theory.

Next, the slow-build Sergio Leone blues of "Rain" comes as close to convention as these musicians ever seem likely to get, but still with that same limitless absorption of disparate ideas. "The Herbsight" is an outlaw finale for the ages, from its swathes of abstract noise and thuggish, depth-charge bass, to the huge expanse of ululating, psychedelic scree that grows from a couple of relatively simple riffs. The most overtly doom-inspired song here, it feels like a sustained outpouring of anguish and an act of joyful catharsis rolled into one. Its final moments might break your heart.

A clear, bright voice in the wilderness, HUNTSMEN have suffered, survived and persevered, and "The Dry Land" is their just reward, and a gift to us all.

Author: Dom Lawson
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