Two years ago Huntsmen made a strong impression with their debut full length American Scrap, which took elements of doom and post metal and merged it with a healthy dose of Americana and Appalachian folk. It was a sound that came through as completely unique and was genuinely exciting to listen to. For follow-up Mandala of Fear the group has expanded outwards towards an even more ambitious approach to writing, offering a lengthy 118-minute release that is even fuller in sound and incorporates more influences than before. While some of the instrumental sections drag on for a bit longer than they need to, Huntsmen is still capturing a style all their own and this album has plenty of standout moments that will keep listeners excited.
Since Mandala of Fear is a concept album, it makes sense that each of the thirteen songs flows naturally into each other. This was true of its predecessor as well, but the transitions are even more fluid this time around and no matter where the instrumentals head there is never anything that feels too out of left field for the band. At their core, the riffs pull in elements of post metal and doom with dense, atmospheric peaks and dark, heavy sections that draw you in with their power. But it’s what the group places around this base that makes them so different. There’s still some of the Americana and folk that was a prominent element on American Scrap, but there are also hints of grunge and a healthy dose of post rock on the instrumental tracks where Huntsmen creates a calm and reflective atmosphere that washes over listeners. It’s here where I’m torn on the album, as while these passages have merit at times they stretch on for a bit longer than they need to and the group could’ve shortened them slightly without losing the impact. There aren’t any moments that are outright skippable though and the high points on songs like “Ride Out”, “A Nameless Dread”, and “Awake At Time’s End” are as stunning as anything that Huntsmen has offered before.
Joining the group is Aimee Bueno, who was a guest on the last track of American Scrap but is now a full-time member. Her voice is a natural compliment to the somber singing tone that the other two members offer, and she’s given the spotlight on the haunting “God Will Stop Trying”. Bueno provides backing vocals throughout the album but at times she’s a little too buried in the overall mix and given how strong her voice is I’d like to see the group utilize her even further as they continue to move forward. On the rest of the vocal front the abrasive screams and growls are as powerful as ever, reaching ear splitting pitches on “Bone Cathedral” and other moments where the group doubles down on the heaviness. Where the Americana style singing is what drew me in before, on Mandala of Fear the harsher pitches are just as impressive and stand out in the same way.
Huntsmen has pushed outwards towards post rock style build-ups and sprawling atmosphere that complements the darker tone and themes they are going for on their sophomore release. The Americana elements are still utilized to good effect, and while there are times where the band stretches their ideas a bit longer than they need to, it doesn’t dull the impression this material will leave on listeners. It’s an exciting progression, and if this is the way the group can continue to transform from one album to the next there’s still plenty to look forward to. Mandala of Fear is available from Prosthetic Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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