(The Fear and the Void Recordings)
Since inception in 2011, Young Hunter has not shirked from conventionally grim subject matter, preferring instead to dive headlong into the existential void through prose of ominous beauty paired with the layered guitars and intense drumming typically given the classification of “doom metal.” But where past releases have merely identified or flirted with these vast notions, Dayhiker raises the cry for active attack in its seven loaded tracks.
Opening song “In the Shadow of the Serpent” welcomes us into the fold like a twitching tail vanishing into the underbrush. It begins with a duet of acoustic guitars, tentatively joined by electric guitar and drums before settling into a forceful advance commanded by Sara Pinnell’s tantalizing vocals. Like a dark enchantress, her voice invites us to “gather around this ancient fire,” eventually rising to a melodious caterwauling as the song progresses, conjuring the feelings of desperation and slow burning anger that perfectly introduce the album.
The driving guitars and numbed despair-laden vocals of its successor, “The Feast,” capture the all-too familiar feeling of being trapped in society’s unrelenting grind. With a voice like a warm tube amp, Benjamin Blake apathetically beseeches “try to find my voice, try to share my pain” to no one in particular in a dispirited serenade that somehow soothes even as Blake lyrically breaks the fourth wall with the entreat: “I guess it’s just us two, if you can hear me then I’m talking to you.”
“Entered Apprentice,” with its staccato guitar, immediately calls to mind desert rock acts like Queens of the Stone Age, but quickly resolves into its own identity as guitars break to give way to bass grooves, crashing drums, and confrontational lyrics like “I’ve been a ghost before but I ain’t one yet” that challenge the status quo while commenting on the circular nature of existence.
Plodding along in the middle of the album with its vibe of portentous doom is “Hunger,” which questions futility (“Why do I fight so hard?”) and explores the seemingly implacable whims of human nature (“In another life I was trained to kill”) with upward soaring yet still melancholy guitar loops and an eager bass-line.
This bass takes us smoothly into “Dark Age,” where its low rumble becomes more salient in the mix, mirroring the undercurrent of unrest Dayhiker has been progressing towards with single-minded purpose from its opening notes. Posing the question: “did I really come here just to watch it burn?” Blake calls for an intelligent rebellion with lines like “but this feeling inside me burns hotter than hate” and “I can already feel the change is me.” All the while, Pinnell’s delicate wailing laments haunt the lead vocals like a welcome spirit.
At just over 9 minutes long, the penultimate “Black Mass” is the Homeric Odyssey of the album. It begins as a threatening rockabilly of sorts, the guitar-driven rhythm pulsing behind swaggering vocals that tackle such heavy topics as political deception, social unrest, and war. Lyrically, this is the album’s lynchpin. All core themes converge here, and the anger only hinted at previously takes center stage in gravelly delivered lines like: “I’ve been losing so long, tonight I’m gonna win” and “I look evil straight into the eye.” Musically, the song is operatic with several radically different acts sewn together into one groove session reminiscent of early Black Sabbath epics. The rising chaos reaches a crescendo, giving way to buzzy synthesizer that dissolves beautifully into the more peaceful closing track.
“Night Hiker” finds us as we were at the album’s beginning, seated around a fire, being lulled by Pinnell’s quavering vocals. “Sit by this fire, what can I do? See the Earth turning from blue” she sings over somberly plucked acoustic guitar. Strident single piano notes pierce the dark folk atmosphere like stars in a night sky amid lyrics that gently mull over daunting questions like: “When an empire dies, where do people go?” It is a wistful ending that leaves the mind full of questions in the charged silence that follows.
On Dayhiker, Young Hunter has found the perfect balance between heavy music and mesmerizing vocals such that the barrage of guitars, bass, and drums serve to echo and enforce the messages of the lyrics without burying them. With a cemented and now seasoned lineup, the five-piece Portland band has created a full immersion sonic experience that invites you to revel in duality of all kinds: darkness and light, male and female, noise and silence, nature and man, inner peace and necessary war.