Album Review: Huntsmen – The Dry Land

4.5/5

In the immortal words spoken by Indiana Jones sidekick Short Round in The Temple of Doom, “Hang on lady, we going for a ride!” Vague and empty as that eight-word cliché might be at times, in the case of Huntsmen’s third record, it’s an apt summation of summer’s most captivating heavy-rock album to beat. The endeavor in question is The Dry Land (Prosthetic), an occasionally overwhelming but never stifling effort by the Chicago ensemble.

An epic rock album in the truest sense of the term, The Dry Land proves how much Huntsmen have learned since forming a dozen years ago. Their guiding philosophy is the same threat that everyone has heard at least once from a parent: “Don’t push it.” Huntsmen upend that tired, boring instruction after discovering that it’s when an artist hits their limit that they have to break through and take their work to the next level.

Huntsmen do just that on their new six-song platter, expanding their sound in such tantalizing fashion that their previous two full-lengths seem so small in comparison. Indeed, 2020’s Mandala of Fear and 2022’s The Dying Pines pale so much next to the band’s latest entry that those first two records sound limp and even feeble. On the fantastically frenetic Dry Land, Huntsmen eschew the trend of rock bands trying to make their sound heavier and louder with each subsequent release they issue, aging be damned. Diligence, stamina, faith in themselves and wisdom must be the qualities responsible for the band’s mastery of the balancing act between doing too much and doing too little.

Huntsmen “Land” Their Best Album Yet

Each of the six songs that comprise The Dry Land are mini-epics in their own right, replete with twists and turns, drama and horror, speed and slowness, crescendos and climaxes, all orchestrated by Huntsmen’s five members. The album’s through line revolves around existentialism, at least in part, and makes the argument that the America in which we currently live is essentially a purgatory from which we can’t seem to extricate ourselves.

Such loaded and deep themes warrant equally cerebral songwriting, and that’s exactly what Huntsmen deliver without faltering for nary a second. Featuring off-the-charts dynamics, “In Time, All Things” begins with a 40-second barrage of progressive black metal, then abruptly stops as if Huntsmen were playing a game of freeze tag. “Lean Times” features acoustic guitar and clean vocals—a daring move reminiscent of similar feats that other gutsy and gnarly groups like Opeth and Deafheaven also accomplished. “Rain” is undergirded by full-throated singing courtesy of Aimee Bueno-Knipe, calling to mind critical contributions by female vocalists to Amorphis’ Queen of Time record and a couple of Dark Tranquillity songs.

That Huntsmen’s segues are so smooth, and fall between such radically different blasts of sound, ensures that The Dry Land doesn’t melt into a puddle of a record. Just like the saying about New England weather goes—“If you don’t like it, wait a minute”—so go Huntsmen records. That may seem directionless, but after a dozen or so listens, you realize that the band was indeed using a map to guide them through the record’s six songs—and hopefully to a band’s ultimate treasure: Frothing approval from a crowd that employs every note, time change, melody, and hopscotch from one musical style to the next.

Making Order Out of Chaos 

Let’s pause for a moment, shall we, to appreciate how an out-of-left-field record as seemingly unmarketable as Huntsmen’s The Dry Land is easily in our reach, accessibly by just a few taps of an index finger. In any other era, this consummately challenging saga of a heavy rock album wouldn’t exist—Imagine how hair-metal and glam-rock radio DJs would’ve reacted to this untamed insanity. Now we live in a world where it’s the average citizen (or president) and not eccentric artists who are, by just about every metric, nuts. And that’s yet another sparkling quality of Dry Land: With the backdrop of everything feeling wrong all the time every day, a listen to Dry Land—for the third, 13th or 30th time—provides an uplifting sense that we can prevail.

As Huntsmen said in a statement earlier this year, “The album traverses the liminal space between the living and the dead by lifting the veil of the abyss itself. Born of suffering and hardship, The Dry Land unifies the dark and light that resides in all of us through allegories of purgatorial strife and human spirit.”

Amen to that.

The Dry Land is available for purchase through Huntsmen’s Bandcamp page.

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