(Shadow Kingdom 2018)
Earlier this year, Haunt took the traditional heavy metal underground by storm with a spectacular four-song EP entitled Luminous Eyes. Although Haunt was originally conceived as a one-man enterprise, Trevor William Church (whom some may know from stoner/doom purveyors Beastmaker) assembled a full band lineup that toured the West Coast / Southwest this spring with Hell Fire, including a wildly successful appearance at the Hell’s Heroes Festival in Houston, Texas. Striking while the iron is hot, the four-piece promptly recorded a full-length album entitled Burst into Flame, which now sees the light of day via Shadow Kingdom Records, a bare 7 months after the EP’s release.
For those (like me) who were spellbound by Luminous Eyes, fret not, for Burst into Flame is every bit as captivating as the predecessor EP, and perhaps even more so, thanks to better sonics and a lengthier, more fleshed-out presentation. For the uninitiated, Haunt specializes in a brand of old-fashioned, unpretentious hard rockin’ metal that draws heavily from the NWOBHM, featuring big twin-guitar melodies and harmonies, Church’s distinctive and emotive vocals, and an eerily laidback vibe. They don’t really sound like anyone else, but it’s easy to see Haunt appealing to fans of bands like Cauldron and Spellcaster. What really sets Haunt apart from the masses – aside from the top-notch, compact songwriting and sparkling crystalline guitarwork – is the emotional depth to the music. There’s a wistful, almost melancholy quality to Church’s voice, and the mood is accentuated by lyrics steeped in themes of restlessness, yearning, lost love, regret, loneliness and heartache. It’s all very relatable stuff, such as where Church sings about being “Exhausted from all the wasted days I can’t get back” (“Can’t Get Back”) or “Navigate the stars to find my love, I’ll find her there” (“Wanderlust”) or “I need to let go and find my way back to who I was before” (“Frozen in Time”) or “When all is lost she’s in my thoughts when I am dreaming” (“Looking Glass”). The combination of Church’s voice, the pensive lyrical content, and the uncomplicated, mostly midpaced, nostalgic, backward-looking music resonates with the listener at a deep, personal level that is all too rare. Best of all, it feels completely genuine, sincere and from the heart. The best comparison I can make in terms of this aspect of Haunt is High Spirits, with the key difference being that Chris Black’s voice and lyrics are often juxtaposed with the high-energy, happy music of High Spirits, whereas Trevor Church’s voice and lyrics are complimented by the laid-back, vaguely sad music.
Don’t get me wrong: listening to Burst into Flame is not a depressing experience. Far from it. This is life-affirming stuff, a tribute to the timeless magic of early ‘80s styled hard rock/heavy metal. The intertwined guitarwork of Church and John Michael Tucker is glorious in its beauty, catchiness and simplicity. The 8 songs weigh in at a lean 37 minutes, such that the band never overstays its welcome. And there are energetic numbers like “Burst into Flame,” “Wanderlust” and “Looking Glass” that allow the listener to close his or her eyes and rock out, if not feeling a contemplative mood.
Look, I know Haunt has been garnering a fair amount of hype these days, including from corners of the media and Internet that some among us might derisively brand “hipsters.” But I’m telling you Haunt are the real deal. They’ve got the songs, the chops, the concept, and the uniqueness to shake things up and do some damage. And Haunt are a killer live act to boot, which perhaps explains how they landed the opening slot on this fall’s Municipal Waste U.S. tour. If you’re still skeptical, cue up “Crystal Ball” or “Wanderlust” on YouTube or Bandcamp. Or go see ‘em with Municipal Waste, or better yet, at Frost & Fire in Ventura, California the first weekend in October. Hearing is believing, and my mind and soul are haunted by this band and this music. I’m willing to wager yours will be too.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~