|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Jon Bodan & Lasse Lammert|
|Record Label: Nightmare||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Halcyon Way|
|Tracks: 12||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 51:51|
Atlanta, Georgia based Halcyon Way aims to blur the line further between pure aggression and immediate accessibility. Starting with its 2008 full-length debut A Manifesto For Domination but also including follow up efforts Building The Towers and Indoctrination (released in 2010 and 2011, respectively) Halcyon Way specializes in joining aspects of power metal and thrash (backed by occasional ‘extreme’ vocals) with a penchant for melodic and progressive metal (in which mostly ‘clean’ vocals are employed). Fittingly, the group is described in its press material as featuring “instantly catchy melodies, precise vocal harmonies, incendiary guitar work (and) intricate yet pounding drums” while guaranteeing you will be “pummeled with the punishing riffs (and) hopelessly entranced by the unforgettable hooks”.
Conquer, the third Halcyon Way album from the summer of 2014, rests upon a similar foundation. If anything, Conquer finds the group honing its sound in that elements from both sides of the fence - the heavy and melodic - come across that much more defined. You will encounter, for instance, melodic based songwriting not unlike Queensryche and Theocracy but backed by thrash heavy riffs that bring to mind Testament and Believer. All the while progressive undercurrents hinting of Dream Theater and Fates Warning imbue the Halcyon Way material.
Two decisive constants remain as it pertains to Halcyon Way (as taken from the 95% Angelic Warlord review of Building The Towers: 1) How the group refuses to be pigeonholed in terms of style classification. Again, a diversity of influences at hand, which cannot help but leave you impressed with how Halcyon Way merges so many different types of metal and make it “work” in the process. 2) The all out melody to the group’s material: No matter how heavy, fast, hard hitting or progressive a song might be, each one brings that notable hook or riff that would separate it from the rest and allow it to remain in your head for some time.
The albums opening title track exemplifies the aggressive meets accessible Halcyon Way proclivity as crushing riffs and striking refrain interlace with periodic extreme vocals. Also with an extreme vocal presence are “Web Of Lies”, slower with its churning low end but near mesmerizing in terms of over the top melody, and “World Comes Undone”, relentless and hard charging (for its incisive verses) but also light and amiable (upon reaching its scintillating chorus). Intermittent gruff vocals lend to the power metal cacophony that is “Hatred Is My Cause” as sledgehammer guitars and strapping drums play decisive roles.
“King Of Ruin” and “Eviscerate The Morning Sun” vie for albums best. Former takes a frenetic speed metal tone as extreme and clean vocals trade off prior to the procurement of a heavy hitting but catchy chorus (which will be a challenge to rid of your mind). Latter proves another barnburner, dogged front to back with its thrash-based riffs but also orchestral in terms of a near sublime refrain (another forthright melody at hand). Am I out of line to suggest (in a positive sense) the two yield a commercial aspect? Regardless, FM radio would do itself a favor by giving either (and much of the albums material for that matter) the time and attention they deserve.
In inviting comparison, Conquer places greater emphasis on extreme vocals (found on 9 of its 12 tracks) than Building The Towers (less than half). Of the clean vocal tracks here, “Home” takes a lighter tone with a pronounced keyboard slant and melody to spare but does not forsake heaviness at the same time (as found in the cool thrash-like guitars at the end). Likewise, “The Poisoned Apple” tempers things in proving one of the albums slowest with eerie keyboards that approach the industrial, while “Every Second Counts” comes across breathtaking in accenting militant riffs and chorus of an elaborate capacity. For those turned off by extreme vocals, note that 90% of the Conquer vocals are clean, with credit to front man Steve Braun for a high end and soaring style that reminds of Lance King singing in a lower register (the album finds Braun coming into his own in adding some fitting grit and gravel to his delivery).
Halcyon Way, to its credit, is not one-dimensional either in that the group is not afraid to experiment with other forms of metal. “Conceived In Torment” hints of symphonic power metal with its sweeping keyboards and chorus with an anthem-like feel and “Militant” melodic metal in highlighting some of the biggest backing vocals you will hear in a thrash and metal hybrid package (if Stryper ever recorded a thrash song this is more than likely what it would sound like). “Save Your Tears” slows things to a mid-paced grind (ranking with the albums heaviest) with pummeling guitars but also including extreme vocals that give rise to a metal core flavor.
None of this happens, of course, without guitarist Jon Bodan, who lends to both the groups heavier (bone crushing but technical riffs and rhythm guitars of a bludgeoning variety) and lighter sides (also bestowing tightly woven guitar harmonies and melodies that add to the inherit Halcyon Way accessibility). He proves no slouch on lead guitar either, as “World Comes Undone” and “Web Of Lies” (expeditious soloing) and “King Of Ruin” (more fluid feel) aptly attest. It is not just Bodan, however, in that drummer Ernie Topran puts in an equally strong performance with his previously noted ‘intricate yet pounding’ timekeeping abilities.
Halcyon Way might not be a Christian band, but in the Conquer liner notes, Braun (former vocalist of Siloam) thanks “Jesus… my Lord and the reason I live”. Bodan, the group’s primary songwriting and previously a member of the Christian metal band Final Judgement, also thanks God for getting him through the last several years of ‘ups and downs’. Conquer is not concept related, but according to Bodan the album is about overcoming adversity and not letting peoples negativity or negative circumstances hold you back from accomplishing your goals. This hits close to home for Bodan, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 (he wrote much of the Conquer material when confined to home while undergoing chemotherapy treatment) and later lost both his parents. In his words, “The lyrics (to Conquer) are very raw and visceral, but ultimately positive. I don't need to put out something that's going to bring people down, there's already enough of that out there, but anger can be focused in a positive fashion.” “Conceived In Torment” best sums up the meaning in question: Born from pain. Conceived In Torment. In faith and flames. With blistered hands we engage…
Conquer was the first CD I pulled off the shelf prior to embarking on an extended road trip from my home base in Phoenix, Arizona to Denver, Colorado (after a long summer of 110+ degree temperatures, monsoon thunderstorms and haboob dust storms a change in climate came with welcome relief!). Repeat play leaves little doubt as to the manner in which Conquer emphasizes big as it gets melodies but every bit as profound heaviness. Everything comes across so tight in the process with the group literally hitting on all cylinders and blurring that line between ‘pure aggression and immediate accessibility’ accordingly. Conquer comes as a highly recommended album of the year candidate for those into a joining of a wide array of metal (thrash, power, melodic & progressive) with uplifting lyrics.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Conquer” (4:15), “Web Of Lies” (4:22), “Conceived In Torment” (4:00), “Home” (4:53), “World Comes Undone” (3:57), “Militant” (4:08), “Hatred Is My Cause” (4:25), “The Poisoned Apple” (4:31), “Save Your Tears” (4:37), “Every Second Counts” (4:41), “King Of Ruin” (4:14), “Eviscerate The Morning Sun” (3:49)
Steve Braun - Lead Vocals
Jon Bodan - Guitars, Programming & Death Vocals
Max Eve - Bass
Ernie Topran - Lead Drums