By The Hickey Underworld
Belgium's The Hickey Underworld are one of those bands who are desperate to be seen as 'weirder' than they actually are (just take a look at their website, but not if you've neglected to update your computer for a while, all that moving imagery may be more than it can handle.) This is particularly odd as, although The Hickey Underworld aren't your average post-hardcore band, they're hardly pushing brave new ground.
This becomes apparent the moment this self-titled debut swaggers to life with the crackly, rock-and-roll meets post-hardcore of 'Zero Hour.' Crunching guitars and hobbling drumbeats paint an early Muse-esque landscape, while frontman Younes Faltakh's droned vocals cut a woozy path through this darkly mesmerising song. Faltakh's pied piper vocals are emphasised by a thread of Mediterranean guitars, which sways along to his boozy rhythms, making the contrast between crunching backing track and accompanying vocals, even more striking. It's an attention-grabbing, but not alienating, start to this intriguing debut album.
The album's strongest offerings are previous singles 'Blonde Fire' and 'Mystery Bruise.' The former is marching post-hardcore fuzz with woozy vocals and hypnotic, lullaby-like lyrics that lead the listener on a disorientating journey through The Hickey Underworld's off-centre world. But, 'Mystery Bruise' doesn't hold back on the hooks, with Faltakh showcasing an irresistible falsetto lilt that also makes a winning appearance on 'Blonde Fire.' Both songs also feature a hook The Hickey Underworld employ to genius effect time and time again: the guitar slide. Over a solid base of marching drumbeats and scuzzed-up guitars, The Hickey Underworld coax a long, elastic moan out of their guitars, which rivals Faltakh's falsetto, in terms of addictiveness. 'Mystery Bruise' and 'Blonde Fire' are perfect, quietly disruptive examples of art-rock.
Whereas Faltakh's vocals are what makes 'Blonde Fire' and 'Mystery Bruise' so catchy, on the raucous 'Zorayda' it sounds as though the frontman's providing the vocals to a completely different song, particularly during the chorus. Consequently, 'Zorayda's bloodthirsty roar of buzzsaw guitar, will leave you completely unmoved, as you'll be too busy wondering what on Earth Faltakh was thinking when he laid down his vocals. The rest of the song does go someway towards compensating for that head-scratcher of a chorus, with shimmying bass and swirling riffs that are classically off-kilter The Hickey Underworld but, every time that juggernaut of a chorus kicks, all you'll be able to see is a wasted opportunity.
'Sick Of Boys' follows in 'Zorayda's noisy, rabble-raising footsteps but, again, to mixed results. While the sheer speed will initially have you sitting up and paying attention, 'Sick Of Boys' does an abrupt about-turn approximately once every second and a half. The poor listener won't have a clue where 'Sick Of Boys' is heading, or where it's been, for that matter. Its 'quieter' moments feature a throbbing bass pulse that'll have you on the edge of your seat, but you'll quickly come to realise that this amassing energy is leading nowhere fast. Instead, that bass is periodically interrupted by everything from crashing guitars, to drum solos. While Faltakh does an admirable job of shouting to be heard over the racket, even after a few listens 'Sick Of Boys' fails to make any sense as a whole.
The Hickey Underworld make a foray to the dark side with 'Blue World Order' and 'Flamencorpse.' The former is a piece of poised and stylish gloom, as trudging drumbeats cut a laborious path through a bleak, bass-soaked soundscape. It'd be a fairly joyless affair, if it wasn't for a touch of jangling beats that give this song the subtlest of country slants. 'Blue World Order' does liven up with some twangy guitar-plucking, but it's a brief window out of this barren landscape. Meanwhile, 'Flamencorpse' is packed with swirling, spacey riffs that are reminiscent of an early Muse, and is underpinned by a doomy bass knell. However, in typical The Hickey Underworld style, that booming bass is sped up and ran together, for a groovy, dance-tastic ending that's completely unexpected.
Like all the best songs on The Hickey Underworld's debut, 'Of Asteroids And Men...Plus Added Wizardry' boasts one great riff, that's perfectly placed within the song, and repeated over and over. On this occasion, it's a sinuous riff that curls between 'Of Asteroids....'s scratching and shunting, creating a soft-loud switchover that's simple but effective.
'Of Asteroids...' is one, long hypnotic undulation, until the midway point, where The Hickey Underworld give themselves free reign to indulge in their more artistic leanings. 'Of Asteroids...' takes several unexpected musical routes to an epic finale of galloping riffs, mad-eyed vocals and dizzying guitars, mixed in with plenty of lurching sections as the song temporarily, and unexpectedly, shakes itself apart, before resuming its sprint to the finish line. Ending in a dramatic boom of bass, 'Of Asteroids...' is a sprawling, musical epic that progresses naturally from one thought-provoking soundscape to the next, whilst always retaining that hooky flipside.
Album-closer 'VRMNSMR' is another song where the guitar slides, bending prominently through The Hickey Underworld's steady, jangly march, are what really sells the song to the listener. It isn't quite the mind-boggling blowout you were perhaps expecting as a final track. 'VRMNSMR' is, instead, a rattling, slide-guitar-stuffed song that's easy on the ear, but laced with some subtle The Hickey Underworld quirk. It's a melodic and instantly likeably close to an album that always manages to work its more eccentric flourishes into a conventional(ish), post-hardcore package. Thankfully, this album isn't at all pretentious and joyless, as the album artwork, press release and their completely inscrutable website would suggest. The Hickey Underworld's debut is fuzzy, quirky post-hardcore, and a must hear for those who are looking to take their first steps into the more eclectic and unusual side of rock.