The self-titled debut album from Austrian prog-metal trio Hills Like White Lions goes under the microscope.
Release Date: 1st May 2020
Label: 639183 Records DK
Formats: CD / DL
Not being a huge fan of heavy metal I listened to Hills Like White Lions with some trepidation but with the progressive tag I decided to give it a go, open-mindedly.
It would seem that I have some affinity with music inspired by landscape and the rural because this album completely won me over. Like rural scenes which are full of contrasts so this album reflects those differences in its musical presentation.
The album concept tells the tale of Sonnentau on a journey full of quests, in which he has to come to terms with his weaknesses and needs.
The opening track with digitally boosted vocals, machine gun-like drumbeats, and harsh chords is an exciting opener in which Sonnetau is challenged by the Shaman to prove himself, conquer his fears, and “prove you’re above them all.”
In Steep, not only the terrain and the weather reflect his wariness of the challenge and need to overcome, the musical accompaniment crashes on relentlessly too.
Cave’s demonic vocals cleverly merge into more melancholic darkness. They express Sonnentau’s fear of losing his way in deep passages within the cave, ultimately getting darker and heavier as he becomes more lost and frightened. Again the rapid-fire drums creating a sense of danger.
As a tragic demise seems inevitable, Light guides Sonnentau to safety, where the warmth and comfort emanate from Maya his rescuer and soon to be lover. The pace slackens if not the volume until a crescendo of chopping riffs and drum beats evolve.
I like the continuity of the story emphasised by merging tracks together. There’s a real strength of the surreal lyrics, thrashing guitar and offbeat drumming (I can’t begin to imagine what the time signatures are. Respite is found in the flower garden…but are the lovely flowers hiding something more sinister?
We drop into the more tranquil Dreaming, which in turn evolves into Waterfall, and despite Maya ‘s companionship and the feeling of safety, we are never far away from imminent danger. The different musical shades in Waterfall describe the constantly changing moods.
The power is turned up to the max on Cliffs Bursting, yet as the mountain top is reached in Floating, the mood becomes mysteriously more mournful. The album notes explain the curious story and the strange twist at this part of the story. Without spoiling the end of the story, the Shaman appears to explain all, but confusion reigns as the story ends.
This diverse and intriguing album fulfills everything that those more inclined to progressive tastes enjoy. The lyrics are often poetic but within the story structure they still have meaning and also it will satisfy the metal fans too with its dynamic and often dark tones.
Listen to the mighty Cave here: