Reach Beyond the Sun is a peculiar milestone for Shai Hulud. Not that they haven’t achieved plenty already or that this is somehow tarnished. No, LP4 is quite an inclusive idea for a band that has done their three previous records with three different vocalists. Returning to record this album – but not as a full-time member – New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert reprises his role as vocalist for the band, while previous vocalists Geert van der Velde, Matt Mazzali and Damien Moyal hop in on a track themselves. Yet, Reach Beyond the Sun shows a band still writing some of their strongest work both in terms of songwriting and emotion – a feat for a band with nearly two decades worth of music under its belt.
Wasting no time, “The Mean Spirits, Breathing” charges out of the gate with blistering drums and sharp guitars as the song sways from relentless to brooding like a pendulum. It’s still very much the gruff, technical metal-induced hardcore we’ve come to enjoy by these guys, but with a bigger sound thanks to Gilbert’s production. That beefed up sound lends further into what could best be called stronger songwriting as a whole from the band, as songs like “To Suffer Fools” seep with always-moving hardcore that needs to be moshed to. The title track as well finds the band pinpointing their faster, shred-induced ideas with precision and muster in what is arguably one of the more memorable cuts of the disc – even among some of the slow-burning numbers that reside elsewhere.
That being said, there’s certainly a hefty amount of both looks from the band. “A Human Failing” churns slowly, but with meaning and purpose in a dismal but somehow inspirational tone. In the same vein, “I, Saturnine” does a similar act, but weaves slicing guitar lines into the mix without detracting from the swell and release of the song. Closer “At Least a Plausible Case for Pessimism” has its growing pains though, feeling a little sluggish when compared to other brooding moments on the album. It isn’t that the idea doesn’t work – it feels very similar to the other two tracks referenced here – but the sum of the parts at times just feels a bit incomplete musically to complement how forceful and emotional Gilbert is with his vocal lines.
As the latest chapter in the Shai Hulud story, Reach Beyond the Sun ends up as not only as a thoughtful addition, but a musically sound and sharp one as well. Though every fan probably has their likes and dislikes in the band’s discography as their sound has had its ups and downs, this effort sounds just as strong in terms of sound as it does in structure. Putting Gilbert back in charge of the vox for this album is a pretty solid move as well, as he proves he still has it in him just as much, if not more, than he did the first time around. Reach Beyond the Sun will certainly get Shai Hulud fans stoked, but it should hopefully garner itself a new batch of ears as well – especially considering the heart and might the band’s sound is still carrying.