Hands of Despair - _Hereafter_
(Independent, 2011)
by: Dan Lake (8 out of 10)
A fellow music journalist mused recently that noticing a heavy band's Neurosis influence is like noticing they're playing guitars, correctly implying that the Bay Area bruisers didn't simply add to the library of extreme music but reforged the laws of its existence. A similar argument can be made for Opeth -- any band raising a righteous ruckus without at least a passing awareness of the Swedish prog-death pioneers should give up their instruments and probably a joint or two off each finger for their insolence. So when Hands of Despair head honcho Maxime Côté describes his music on _Hereafter_ as "like Opeth on steroids", we should all curl our lips and shake our heads a bit. I mean, do you really want an even more erratic and enraged Mikael Åkerfeldt serving up moodier and more elastic conceptual arcs? The muscular assault of the heaviest Opeth output never made me wish for extra levels of unpredictable aggression.

A few listens through _Hereafter_, though, and we can all relax our guard. The Opeth influence is readily apparent, and not in some lickspittle genre-aping mimicry. Côté wields formidable songwriting chops, and his talent for blending numerous complementary ideas into forms both moving and vicious makes for engaging musical statements of truly Opethian length (no track here dips below seven minutes, and most make it past nine). It's even possible to (grudgingly) allow the man's "on steroids" modifier, given that Åkerfeldt's inspiration has become increasingly retro-oriented, while _Hereafter_ happily employs more updated modes of savage attack.

On the whole, these songs are breathtaking. "The Departure" lands a leviathan doom riff on the album's first minute, then recedes into windswept picking and a spoken-word lament. "Shattered Memories" tumbles onto ears with the sudden force of an avalanche and hangs onto that intensity even through a pair of keyboard-assisted interludes. The center of penultimate track "Creator" gives way to a space-filled solo backed by ringing clouds of distortion. The guitar work throughout the record is impeccable, constantly raising the stakes in spirals equally vicious and delicate. No moment overextends itself; complacency and boredom never gain a foothold.

As impressive as the labyrinthine tunes themselves are the conduits through which Côté realizes his vision. Only being one man himself (as many of us are), the metal songsmith channeled his music's lifeblood through precisely the right group of musicians sympathetic to the cause. Daylight Dies' Egan O'Rourke contributes saccharine (but solid) clean vocals on "The Departure" and on closer "The Road", but roar-monger David-Alexandre Brousseau bites deeply into the middle of the track and remains the throat of choice throughout most of _Hereafter_'s 56-minute runtime. Brousseau's bass work also deserves accolades as it burbles actively under the gathering darkness. Vanessa Chevarie of Quebecois breakouts Aenygmist lends her (un)gentle voice to "Them"; The Faceless drummer Lyle Cooper acquits himself admirably through all manner of tempo twists and brutal bludgeonings.

_Hereafter_ might not share the Big O's proggier ambitions, but the heights achieved here hardly lack for loftiness. G'on, Max. Call your shit whatever you want.

Contact: http://handsofdespair.bandcamp.com

(article published 6/5/2012)

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