Danish trio Hiraki pack thunderous synthpunk on their hard-hitting new album Stumbling Through The Walls, an April release from Nefarious Industries.
The album’s contorting but just about relentlessly driving rhythms feel jarring, like fiery psychological unease. Overall, Hiraki expertly interweave punk abrasion with disorienting synths, and the group’s venomous onslaught could be compared to groups like the avant-garde metal powerhouse The Body, who Hiraki cite as an inspiration.
“You’ve got to be somewhat nerdy to dig into that stuff,” guitarist Tue Schmidt Rasmussen observes, discussing their influences. “And I think we’ve been talking a lot, we’ve been discussing a lot, and we’ve been taking all sorts of inspiration into this, from of course bands, but also from the world around us, and culture, and movies, and conversations about good and evil. We took some time to really dig into: What is our place in this, in a way? The good thing about those bands is it’s almost impossible to make a copy. Even if we want to be like a The Body tribute band, it’s not really possible, right, because there’s only one Chip King, and that gives an advantage that we’re like somewhat forced to find our own way in this. Even though it would be easier sometimes to just say: Okay, let’s all sound like whatever, it’s an ongoing challenge, and I think we sort of embraced the challenge of having to find our own way in this.”
Hiraki recorded Stumbling Through The Walls in the band’s rehearsal space, which Schmidt Rasmussen describes as “a tiny, tiny room split into two even more tiny rooms,” and although the constricted space could pose challenges, he adds that it’s like “a safe haven somewhat to go there.”
There’s a real urgency in the sometimes gruelingly forceful sound, which reflects the urgency of its creation. “It was never really a question whether to do this or not,” as Schmidt Rasmussen puts it. “It was just—let’s just go full speed.”
Besides stylistic inspirations from groups like The Body, Hiraki explain that they also took a cue for their manner of working.
“They inspire us in the sense that they do their shit like they want to do their shit, and in a way, that kind of gives us the feeling of: Of course we can do that as well,” vocalist and synth artist Jon Gotlev explains. “And we live in a very small country, where sometimes the scene can be kind of generic in a lot of ways, because it’s a small country, so you can a lot of times fall into these very specific boxes of the genres, what it is you do. And I think we kind of had that feeling of: Okay, let’s try and do something else. Let’s try and actually do what all of the bands that we really like do, in the sense of doing something different, and not just fall into the generic genre work of how they do it.”
Hiraki rather smoothly connected with folks outside of Denmark, Schmidt Rasmussen explains.
“I think to some extent we are in a good spot in Denmark, because actually there is a lot going on in the scene, also the scene for hardened music is very broad,” he says. “I mean there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t even want to listen to because it’s too far out or maybe it’s too mainstream even though it’s hard music. I mean the genre spread is pretty wide, despite the fact that we are only six million people, right? And not very many people listening to this kind of stuff. […] Getting in touch with Greg from Nefarious Industries, he was already pretty well into the Danish scene, actually, and he’s released some other Danish bands as well, so it was actually pretty easy to get people understanding where we’re going in a way, especially outside of Denmark.”
“Common Fear,” which opens Stumbling Through The Walls, features a guest spot from vocalist Cara Drolshagen of the cutting-edge Detroit hardcore collective The Armed.
“We’re fanboys, all of us—really, we are,” Schmidt Rasmussen says of The Armed, explaining that they first connected with the band when Hiraki got the opportunity through a “super proactive” booking agent to play a couple of shows with the group in Europe.
“We kind of waltzed around it a lot of times, and we had a lot of other people in mind as well,” Gotlev adds, discussing their hope for Drolshagen’s contribution. “And then suddenly we just got the contact through The Armed to her, and she wrote back, and she was just like so fucking game on it.”
Drolshagen “recorded the whole thing in her car actually,” Gotlev adds, and he connects the experience to the ideas underlying the music itself.
“That’s probably the essence of this whole thing is like—of course that’s how we have to do it,” Gotlev says. “That’s how this song came to be, and the whole essence of the song as well. It just boiled down to that, and with her screaming that, it’s so perfect, and we’re so happy that we got her to do that.”
Drummer and backing vocalist Tim Frederiksen agrees that “it’s so crazy” that Drolshagen ended up featuring on the song.
Sonically, Hiraki interweave a broad array of musical interests, the members explain. Before Hiraki, Schmidt Rasmussen and Gotlev performed together for awhile in a post-rock group, the guitarist says.
Eventually, Schmidt Rasmussen shares: “We had the idea of actually doing this. Why not bring all of this actually huge knowledge, like nerdy music knowledge, combined with the skills to actually play—why not bring it to the front of the stage and just make something out of it instead of just talking and drinking beers? We can just play and have someone pay for the beers instead. […] To some extent it’s still actually sort of a miracle that we actually found a way, a common ground.”
Hiraki’s music feels sprawling, although it feels at least somewhat unified by a guiding light of fierce confrontation. “Common Fear,” the album opener, feels venomous when the tempo slows, and as the tune gets brasher, the atmosphere turns to menace. Hiraki maintain a strong punk edge in the music, with plenty of fierce guitar lines underlying the invigoratingly disjointed rhythms, and these punk elements come into particular focus at moments like “Wonderhunt” and “Blossom Cuts.” Meanwhile, the synths across the album feel wildly intense, like musical reflections of a blinding neon light that just keeps flashing. “Mirror Stalker” is a particularly standout track among many powerful moments—the song features blasting rhythms that spiral into a frenzy and retract across its runtime. In the slower moments, the rhythms feel staggering, like grappling with mania.
On a more personal note, the music of Hiraki deals thematically with the clash between personal drives for fulfillment and grim realities.
“It’s impossible for these kinds of topics to not spill over into the music,” Schmidt Rasmussen shares. “Of course it will—it does that because it’s a huge part of us and it’s a huge part of the idea of what we are together and the fact that we actually—we have a place in this world and we’ve got to take it seriously in a way, and music is one way of expression, right? But the whole visual side of Hiraki is also very much oriented towards these topics that we talk a lot about and discuss a lot. There’s a lot of unfairness going on in the world right now, and it’s a good genre for expressing that, I think.”
Frederiksen agrees: “In many other genres, like death metal or even just metal in particular, politics isn’t very commonly used. Not in Denmark, not exactly, but we also like other stuff like punk music and hardcore music, and in those genres, the politics is very clear and open and in-your-face actually, and we’re very inspired by those genres also.”
Personal inspiration underlies the music of Hiraki.
“A lot of times when we meet, it’s us three in like a therapy group discussing our lives, but also what’s happening outside our lives and what’s happening in the whole world,” Gotlev adds. “So, that kind of boils down when doing the lyrics and doing the whole kind of red thread for the albums and the whole visual side for it as well, how we communicate it out, because we want to express that in a lot of ways. It’s not songs about partying or going to town—it’s about individuals. It’s about being a human and having a place in this world and how you can change that or how you find yourself being a part of this world in a lot of ways.”
That journey can be arduous.
“The whole album is actually both saying that we’re going towards the whole fascist empire but also kind of questioning our place in the world and what we actually do,” Gotlev adds. “Do we do enough? Are we too narcissistic? It’s kind of the mix of wanting to do something, are we doing enough, or are we actually doing the right thing?”
Answers aren’t always clear, as reflected in the tension of Stumbling Through The Walls.
“[The album is] questioning the whole thing about what is it actually that you stand for and where can you take a part in that and where can you actually do something instead of trying to just say: ‘World peace. Save the world. I want world peace,’” Gotlev adds. “It’s also kind of the whole idea of figuring out where can you actually position yourself as a human being in this world and make a difference.”
Listen to Stumbling Through The Walls below, and pick up a copy or merch bundle here.
Images courtesy of Hiraki. Featured image credit: Malte Riis.