Review by Shannon Shumaker
In Hearts Wake’s new release, Skydancer is the masculine half of the band’s ambitious and beautiful two-part series, Earthwalker and Skydancer. These are things that any fan can go online and read about, but I’m mentioning it because the way that In Hearts Wake have managed to bridge these two albums together and create a gorgeous concept series is incredible. The way that Skydancer flows from the band’s previous release, Earthwalker is remarkable, but even more so is the fact that the band managed to keep this album, which was recorded back in 2013 with Earthwalker, a secret up until recently.
Where Earthwalker feels a little brighter and lighter (as it is the feminine half of the series) Skydancer keeps the same energy and sounds that make it strong, but feels a little heavier and more aggressive. In Hearts Wake waste no time in throwing you into a fast-paced, high energy track with the first song, “Aether,” which hosts some beautiful guitar work and a very cinematic sound. The album as a whole has a very larger than life feeling, so this intro song is the perfect track to really prepare listeners for what they’re getting into.
“Aether” then leads right into the album’s title track, which definitely keeps with that big, anthematic sound. As the song, progresses, I’m left waiting for something big and special to happen. Sadly, that moment doesn’t come until after halfway through the song, but it is totally worth the wait when the break comes in with beautiful clean vocals and a stunning key part. Then, when the chorus comes back in again, it feels even bigger.
As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that some of its driving forces are the aggressive, in your face versus coupled with catchy, melodic choruses. Because of this, each song flows very well from one to the other, keeping you waiting for the next one to come and blow you away, and holding onto that cinematic feeling that the band establishes right at the beginning of the album. However, in many songs, it’s apparent that the lower unclean vocals seem to get lost in the mix with the rest of the band, making them hard to hear at times. There are, however, some very nice little breaks when the screams do shine, but it does tend to get a little bit muddy at times.
The album’s single, “Badlands” hosts some of the best aggressive energy on the album, though. The gang vocals and chants are phenomenal, as are all of the different vocal parts on the track. It seems that In Hearts Wake have pulled out all of the stops with “Badlands,” from the varying vocal parts to the hard-hitting instrumentation, to the meaningful lyricism, such as the strong line, “How dare you disrespect what you don’t understand.”
Many songs on Skydancer seem to have similar structures, with aggressive screamed verses, melodic clean choruses and heavy breakdowns, but it totally works for In Hearts Wake and the feelings that they are obviously trying to evoke with this release. On top of that, there are definitely songs that break the pattern, such as hard-hitting “Badlands” and the very technical and dark instrumental track, “Oblivion.” Other standouts songs are the lighter track, “Wildfire” and the stunning final track, “Father,” which brings the album to a close in a perfect, beautiful and cinematic way, supplemented by meaningful and spiritual spoken word.
Skydancer and Earthwalker should absolutely be listened to together, as the albums themselves connect beautifully. As far as concept albums go, In Hearts Wake have totally hit the nail on the head. The lyricism as well as the instrumentation and overall mood on both records tells a spiritual story, creating two albums that are well worth listening to front to back.
Listen to "Badlands"