Artist: Heart of a Coward
Album: Hope and Hindrance
Release Date: 28th May
Genre: Progressive Groove Metal/Metalcore
Review By: Adam Sandrey
Heart of a Coward have had a number of setbacks in the run up to release of their debut full length, but after all the trials and tribulations it is finally available ….. but has it been worth the wait? In short, yes it has. Anybody who has been lucky enough to see them live since ex-Sylosis frontman Jamie Graham joined the ranks has had some idea of what to expect from the release.
Let’s start with Jamie’s vocals first. They are absolutely fantastic throughout. Both his clean and his unclean vocals are of the highest quality and they add an extra dimension to the band’s sound that they were lacking before he joined and that should help them to make the step up to the bigger leagues of the UK metal scene. They breathe life and soul into the sound. Sylosis’ loss truly is HOAC’s gain.
HOAC demonstrate their ability to write and play Meshuggah level grooves (using a “djent” tone) throughout the album, but it isn’t all about the epic down-tuned groove. There are plenty of moments of true progressive metal beauty and an explicit modern metalcore influence (with some head stomping breakdowns). These contrasting styles in the music could have led to the album sounding artificial, but the transitions between and combinations of pure unbridled aggression and soothing beauty are as organic as it gets in such music. This is demonstrated very clearly on my personal highlight of the album, All Eyes to the Sky, which makes full use of Jamie’s wide range in vocal capability and the band’s ability to be beautiful and devastating. The song epitomises the overall feel and vibe of the album. It is no coincidence that the album is called Hope and Hindrance because you can genuinely hear the range of positive and negative emotions throughout the album as they tackle usual issues like religion, social unrest and relationships.
The tracks Light and Shade that play consecutively on the album have very different feels and very different approaches to what appear to be tackling the same subject matter. Light is 2 minutes 39 seconds of beautiful progressive rock and despair, whereas Shade is 4 minutes 29 seconds of pummelling “djent” filled groove combined with crushing metalcore and penetrated by a few moments of beauty courtesy of Jamie’s angelic cleans. The effect of this combination is that Light acts as the calm before the storm of Shade and it is probably done in such a way as to illustrate the contrasting and opposing human emotions in life events.
The way that the album flows together is particularly excellent too. The transitions between certain tracks on the album are incredibly cohesive and it helps the album to flow as one continuous piece. The way that Shade blends into Nightmare and then that blends into title track, Hope and Hindrance, which then blends into And Only Time Will Time, is particularly effective. Listen to the way that these tracks flow into each other and you will hear this for yourself. It makes it very difficult to listen to just one of these tracks, because you fully expect it to be a piece in a larger jigsaw.
There are negative elements of the album though, which you could argue highlight the album’s overall theme of hope and hindrance. The final track, Break These Chains (which is a re-working of a much older track) has an unnecessarily long breakdown at the end of the track (clocking in at around 4 minutes). There is absolutely no need for the breakdown to be this long. Although the breakdown is well layered, beautiful and of a high quality and, at a greater length than other breakdowns on the album, it serves as an effective way end to the album, but the cynic in me is thinking that they simply engineered it to be this long to extend the playing time of the album a small fraction. It would have served this purpose well at a third of the playing time that it actually gets. Although 38 minutes isn’t particularly short, it seems much shorter when the album is this enjoyable. The other “niggle” I had with the album is the inclusion of “gang vocals” and “gang chants”, which although do help to create the kind of experience that you would find at a live show, just come off as sounding rather tacky. I believe that gang vocals (which are increasingly used in the “core” scene) really should be reserved for live shows when crowd participation is greatly encouraged. This is a very minor niggle though and is probably more of a personal pet hate, rather than a genuine complaint against the album.
Heart of a Coward display plenty of talent on their debut full length with Meshuggah-level “djent” based grooves (stating that a band is doing it at Meshuggah’s level is a very high compliment indeed), truly beautiful elements more akin to progressive metal and well utilised moments of modern metalcore. Take this excellent musical base and add to it Jamie’s high quality vocals (both clean and unclean) and what you have is a piece of modern metal that should appease many. They might not be doing anything new and it might well be rather “trendy” but they are doing it better than the vast majority of them out there and they can do it live too. This is a very highly recommended album for all lovers of modern metal and in particular those of you subscribing to the “djent” based sounds of that scene. Just be prepared to feel a twinge of disappointment when the experience finishes after just 38 minutes ……. but then again you can just re-click ‘play’.