The term "hipster black metal" is likely to cause purists to cringe, which might lead them to dismiss Haze of Summer, who unabashedly describe themselves as such in addition to their aesthetic kinship with Deafheaven. That would be a mistake, as the Russian band's debut album Znoi ("heat" in Russian) contains some of the most interesting music under the "hipster black metal" umbrella. Fans of this sound will find refreshing arrangements and instrumentation, while detractors will find an undeniable respect for the genre's heritage.
Haze of Summer makes their ambient element clear with the intro of "March," but make no mistake — their rhythm section has a solid foundation in good ol' fashioned black metal. Straight-ahead double-bass drums and tremolo-picked guitar provide the track's backbone, allowing stylistic discrepancies to create a unique atmosphere rather than dominate the songwriting. Lush production, uplifting melodies and blended screams manifest like they would on similar albums, but frigid sorrow is still evident as buzz saw guitars mingle with warm synth. Seriously, we're way past the point where using acoustic guitars and keyboards in black metal can be considered weird.
HoS know their way around an emotional crescendo, but they have their primitive roots on lock. Continuing the theme of naming tracks after months, "April" showcases their power with speedy blast beats and guttural growls. These more intense passages don't overshadow their usage of melodious halftime, multifaceted keyboard and electronic percussion. The band's recurring usage of spoken word may have diminished impact for those who don't understand Russian, but the haunting voices succeed in guiding hushed interludes to explosive climaxes and substantiating a mysterious aura.
"May" balances emphasis on keyboards and guitar as tremolo melodies and shimmering chimes commingle within a rushing feel reminiscent of Wolves in the Throne Room, but "June" capitalizes on HoS's instrumental eccentricities to a truly memorable effect. Fingerstyle acoustic guitar finds common ground with 80s-style synth, violin, providing the driving drums and distorted guitar a remarkably diverse melodic structure. As poppy as it is fist-pumping, this track solidifies itself as most unique on the album.
Guitars make a muscular comeback on "July" via low-end crunch. However, the song's strong rhythm changes and melodic structure keep listeners on their toes. HoS does not approach their chosen genre as a gimmick, allowing their ornate sonic palette to paint a interesting picture of the season Znoi revolves around. As "August" concludes the record with a welcome dose of relatively unambiguous adrenaline, driving home the point that these guys have nothing to hide. Post-black metal, metalgaze — call it what you want. Znoi not only proves that this once-nebulous approach has settled into a form, but shows that one can still write compelling music within that form.
BOTTOM LINE: The sincerity Haze of Summer has in Znoi is ultimately what makes it worth listening to. They know who they are as a band, and write their songs with confidence. The fact they can still keep part of their sound within black metal orthodoxy in spite of all of their new-school tendencies elevates their debut above their competition.
STANDOUT TRACK: "June"
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