Those in the know call it “Swancore”. Lovingly named after Dance Gavin Dance guitarist/sonic mastermind Will Swan, the term refers to a subgenre of post-hardcore riddled with the spastic, mathematical leads and progressive rock attitude, made famous by bands like DGD and The Fall of Troy in the early to mid 2000s. Swan himself has served as something like a curator of the style over the past several years with his label Blue Swan Records, promoting bands that invent themselves in his image. An exclusive club, Blue Swan bands, share members, tour together, and heavily influence one another’s studio work — it’s enough to make one wonder why, as the figurative golden child of the roster, California four-piece Hail The Sun would ever want to leave.
Culture Scars, their full-length debut on new label Equal Vision, provides a good answer: more people needed to hear what they have to say. Truly meaningful lyrics are hard to come by among Hail The Sun’s peers, or at the very least ones that feel concrete and rooted in easily observable events. Vocalist/drummer Donovan Melero, however, has always defied that trend, writing in an easily interpretable style about his own life as well as certain things he sees as needing to be addressed.
On Culture Scars, these topics of discussion take a strongly political edge. Police brutality, the nasty inner workings of the porn industry, and how the mass media manipulates the minds of the public, each get a song to themselves here. However, despite the heavy nature of the subject material, Melero’s writing never gets too wordy or top-heavy — instead, it flows nicely alongside the always-moving instrumentation that made Hail The Sun as well known as they are today.
In all honesty, it’s pretty tough to imagine a Hail The Sun song in which the instrumental track isn’t the star of the show. Crisp, precise guitars riff circles around an equally tight rhythm section, a complete package that feels diverse and creative in meter while maintaining a constant sense of groove. “Progressive” and “progress” are in the same family, after all, and Hail The Sun do an excellent job of creating a sense of forward motion that perpetuates itself throughout the entire record. They’re able to do this without anything feeling too busy — when one piece of the puzzle decides to slow down for a minute, another always steps up to take its place. A good example is “Words of Gratitude (Parents)”, the relaxed verses of which don’t call for a lot of head spinning guitar work. As such, the drums and bass step up and kick everything forward, keeping things interesting, while still pointing the listener’s ear straight to the vocal track.
The record’s true high point, however, arrives at the very end. It’s no coincidence that “Doing the Same Thing and Expecting Different Results” is the textbook definition of insanity, because that’s pretty much what it sounds like (in an overwhelmingly good way, of course). The track plays out like a smorgasbord of everything that makes Hail The Sun’s music so compelling. Relentlessly driving guitar riffs are interwoven with lightning quick percussion, backing up Melero’s soaring voice in double time before the whole thing drops off into a swinging groove section punctuated by jazz piano. It may sound a bit overwhelming, but the band manages to make it all work out in the end, the song’s final seconds spent sonically reaching for the stars — the instrumentation figuratively propping up Melero’s voice to reach the sort of heights only visible through the kind of musical chemistry the four-piece seems to ooze out of every pore.
Culture Scars may seem a bit thematically jumpy, touching on several drastically different topics in several consecutive tracks. Rarely, though, does having a lot to say produce something that feels tired and overdone, and this record is no exception to the rule. There’s obviously no shortage of passion, talent, or a good musical relationship between players — if Hail The Sun can just deliver a bit more of a cohesive vision, their next effort will be nothing short of brilliant. Even though this is already their second full-length, it’s hard not to see their vast potential as still majorly untapped.
Post-hardcore | Equal Vision Records