Genkaku by Low Flying Hawks

Release date: August 25, 2017
Label: Magnetic Eye Records

Doom is often looked down upon by discerning heavy music fans. It’s too slow; all they’re doing is ripping off Sabbath riffs; it’s dumb; it’s background music for bongheads to giggle to… just some of the many derogatory statements aimed at the genre. But then comes along a band like Low Flying Hawks and their hazy take on doom. Their languid yet often bleak music gives the impression that the protagonists are not only interested in pushing the genre into areas which are seldom visited, but also wish to do it with finesse and intelligence.

Those who heard Low Flying Hawks’ debut, Kōfuku, will already know that their marrying of deep, dark riffs with at-times fragile vocals is a sublime experience. This album, however, takes us on to another plane altogether. It is textured, meditative… yet packs a groove, most notably in parts of ‘Smile’, ‘Uncool’ and ‘Twilight’ that invokes that involuntary slow nod that we all love.

Much has been made of Low Flying Hawks’ cohorts, namely Trevor Dunn of Mr Bungle on bass and Dale Crover of The Melvins on drums. The pair were there for the first album and return for Genkaku. Indeed Crover is joined by his bandmate Buzz Osborne, who contributes vocals on two tracks. But as cool as it may be to have luminaries like those as friends to call on, this remains resolutely an album made by the enigmatically named AAL and EHA.

As for what it sounds like… well, that is a tough one: it is big but delicate, heavy but airy, morose but uplifting. And it hangs together like all good albums should. And unlike their last one, it all fits on one piece of vinyl. Kōfuku was spread over two discs at 45rpm – which is great for the ears if you have a system worthy of picking up the miniscule sound improvement, but hard on the wallet. It also meant you couldn’t get too comfortable before having to turn the record over.

‘Smile’ opens the album and is a massive shape-shifting beast of a song, which begins with the plaintive “Only the night soothes me…” and ends with the aforementioned head-nodding groove, with Osborne’s vocal accompaniment. ‘Uncool’ follows and in the way it slithers around between its chugging guitars and jazzy bass, it is a masterclass in showing how there is life in doom yet. ‘Virgin Witch’ starts out a brooding slab but is dragged out of the morass by a guitar solo into a space bordering on euphoric. Well, relatively euphoric, anyway.

The second side of the album kicks off with ‘Space Wizard’, which is suitably spacey… and wizardy. But as it is Low Flying Hawks, the doom-by-numbers title of the song gives no clue to the spooky shuffle or widescreen riffing we are treated to. The sort-of title track, ‘Hallucination’ (Genkaku is Japanese for hallucination or illusion) is the saddest sounding on the album and brings some 80s-style angsty vocals into the mix, as well as some spooky psychedelia.

Next up is ‘Twilight’ which is a beautiful song which begins with a wordless vocal over the top of churning, fuzzy guitars. Then with its violin bridge which segues into a gruff doom-blues, it has the world-weary atmosphere of a final track. ‘Sinister Waves’ closes the album with an atmospheric introduction, which gives way to a hypnotic, pulsing, visceral finale, with a chant of “You don’t need to try, you don’t need to cry…”.

It’s a great ending to a fine album.

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