Review: Shai Hulud – Reach Beyond The Sun

e1357925381Reach Beyond The Sun, the fourth proper full-length from scene forerunners Shai Hulud showcases the many reasons the band has achieved such longevity in their nearly twenty years of being active. The nuance, precision and depth that are on display throughout the record’s ten tracks make the five-year interval since the band’s previous release seem more than worth it. Original frontman Chad Gilbert has returned to handle vocal duties (in the studio, at least), in addition to taking on the role of producer. Months prior to the album’s release, guitarist and founding member Matt Fox described Gilbert’s influence on this record, stating that he had made a concerted effort to contain Fox’s progressive tendencies, making the product feel more cohesive. Reach Beyond The Sun definitely delivers on that promise. While 2008’s Misanthropy Pure was a great record in its own right, certain sections teetered on the edge of sheer madness, making it a very challenging listen for the less technically inclined. Even the most skilled of musicians would be hard-pressed to wrap their head around that LP without numerous listens. While Reach Beyond The Sun is undoubtedly very technical, it deals out tempo-changes and irregular song patterns much more moderately than its predecessor. This is the most accessible Shai Hulud album to date, and will most likely win over listeners who were put off by the overwhelming complexity of Misanthropy Pure.

From a production standpoint, Reach Beyond The Sun is hands down the most polished record in the band’s discography. While gritty, stripped down sounds definitely have their place in heavy music, the band’s first two records simply had inadequate engineering given the intricacy and meticulous arrangement that permeates Shai Hulud’s music. Misanthropy Pure was definitely a step in the right direction in this respect, but fell somewhere shy of the band’s true artistic vision. Thankfully, Chad Gilbert knows that clarity is paramount when it comes to this particular style, and was able to construct a sound that does justice to the record’s musical subtleties without sacrificing any of the aggression that makes it emotionally resonant.

Gilbert’s vocals, while perhaps not necessarily better than those of any other recorded Shai Hulud vocalist, are certainly more dynamic. A scream can give life to many emotions, whether it be rage, fear, sorrow, or otherwise. Given the weighty lyrical content he’s dealing with, Gilbert does an excellent job of delivering his vocals in a way that captures the emotion behind Fox’s lyrics, rather than simply reciting them all in a uniform fashion. While the lyrics to every Shai Hulud song are deserving of a long review of their own, suffice it to say that Reach Beyond The Sun focuses on the same major themes as the band’s previous albums: guided misanthropy, dissatisfaction with unfulfilled potential, intense vitriol towards ignorance, et cetera. As per usual, these words are beautifully written, allowing the ideas they represent to manifest themselves persuasively and poetically. Shai Hulud’s lyricism has always been the key factor allowing them to stand apart from – and above – many of their peers, and this album does not disappoint in this respect.

Boasting a slew of guest vocal appearances, Reach Beyond The Sun truly feels like a celebration of Shai Hulud and everything the name represents. Featuring past vocalists Damien Moyal, Geert van der Velde, and Matt Mazzali on “Medicine To The Dead” is a brilliant way of acknowledging and paying respect to the band’s long and turbulent history. Many people have put their love, labour, and sincerest convictions into this band, and while the vast majority are no longer official members, their influence deserves to be recognized. Thankfully, the current members are acutely aware of this, and have been thoughtful enough to ingrain a sense of continuity into Reach Beyond The Sun through these inclusions, as well as less overtly through a handful of lyrical nods.

Shai Hulud are by no means prolific. While it’s counterintuitive to think of a band that has only released four full-lengths in nearly two decades as having made a massive contribution to their genre, quality ultimately matters far more than quantity. While fame and fortune are not a part of the group’s story, their music and the heart that has gone into it are more valuable than any amount of popularity or material wealth. Shai Hulud embody everything that hardcore ought to stand for. There is something life-affirming about the art they have created, and while the masses may never take notice, the few who have in the past, do in the present, or will in the future be moved by this music can derive something infinitely meaningful from it.

 

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