• Dreaming away soothing depression from outer space - A review of Hillward's ''Flies in Amber Stones''

    Hillward - Flies in Amber Stones (2015)

    Hillward is a Canadian progressive metal band with a depressive rock note that sounds similar to contemporary Anathema or Katatonia. The band consists of members of the great progressive metal band Southern Cross that included more power metal elements in their sound. That band is currently on hold but a new record should come out next year. The album cover of the band's debut full length release ''Flies in Amber Stones'' already gives you a perfect idea of the sound of this album that has a very clear guide line. All ten tracks have a somewhat psychedelic, numbing and depressive feeling and are rather slow or played at mid-tempo. Dreamy guitar riffs are supported by a mostly smooth rhythm section, appeasingly melodic vocals and electronic lounge sounds here and there. This is the kind of record that should be listened to as a whole because it takes the listener on an epic journey. On the other side, this type of music isn't always easy to digest due to its particular atmosphere and should only be enjoyed in small doses.

    The most outstanding track is probably the brilliant opener and title track ''Flies in Amber Stones''. From the first second on, it has the band's charismatic dreamy, depressive and epic atmosphere including numbing melodies, appeasing lead vocals and floating backing vocals but it comes around with the heaviest riff on the album and a few vivid electronic elements including tribal drum sounds. This is probably the band's most accessible track for progressive metal fans.

    ''Entropy'' and ''Quantify the Abstract'' are two great instrumental tunes. The former has a focus on electronic elements with a hypnotizing vibe while the latter is much heavier and focuses on a diversified guitar performance and a greater role of the rhythm section.

    The longest tune on the album is also the most epic one in form of the diversified ''When It All Comes True'' that almost has an old-school space rock vibe from the seventies that invites the listeners to relax and dream themselves far away. 

    A last track to point out would be ''Walls of Apathy''. Among many introspective tunes, this track can still be described as the ballad of the album. Just as the title suggests, it has an apathic instrumental work but still manages to grab you emotionally in the second half when soothing male vocals meet charismatic and dreamy female guest vocals. The two singers have a really great chemistry and I would definitely like to hear more collaborations between the two. This track is a true hidden gem on a very unique, soulful and profound album.

    In the end, this overlooked French Canadian progressive rock or metal act created a very beautiful first output with a lot of depth, emotions and intellectuality. It even sounds as if it came from a more experienced band that knew precisely what it was doing here. Fans of rock music with a calmer, spacier and more depressive note will really dig this record and should encourage the band by buying this output on its Bandcamp presence.

    Final verdict: 8/10

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