Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Album Review: Axiom by Harker (by Chris Bishton)

I've been looking forward to this one. It seems an age since Brighton's 'Emogazers', Harker, released their debut No Discordance. Actually, it's only been three years. But it seems longer as the sophomore, Axiom, has been delayed due to obvious difficulties getting into the studio to record it last year. But now it's here. Firing not just against the apathy brought on by repetitive lockdowns and stay home orders, but also demanding action on a whole range of social, economic and environmental needs. It's very powerful and it's been very much worth the wait.

The first track is The Beast Must Die. Already released online a few months earlier as a showcase to the album, it's easy to see why. It totally embodies the band and frames the rest of the LP. Thirty odd seconds of feedback before the fuzzy guitars start, which then eventually combine with Mark's vocals to create a sound that is somehow new, but also familiar. Does that makes sense? Probably not, but that's the overriding takeaway for me on this new album.

There are echoes of bands from my youth. This is great for me because I spent the 90s listening to far more to Sonic Youth, Swervedriver (look them up if you don't know them by the way – one of the very best 'gazer' bands from back then) and, dare I say it, the Manics, than I ever did NOFX or No Use For A Name. That's not to say these bands aren't great. They are. It's just when I was a teen I was more often than not on the emo end of the spectrum. But despite these comparisons, Harker are, nevertheless, contemporary. There's more of an urgency to this, making it sit more comfortably with possible similarities with The Gaslight Anthem and a fiercer, punk sound.

It's based on the idea of ‘mono-consciousness’ – seeking a heightened sense of meaning and avoiding a closed mindset, but with the subjects of the song showing a lack of empathy, leading to the aforementioned apathy. It's this idea that the mono-consciousness is a beast inside of us that needs hunting out before it takes control. As an opening track, it's a real statement. Different to the debut album, but recognisable, and most importantly, fantastically powerful.

Sign of Crows is next. Instantly recognisable as Harker. Catchy and tuneful, bouncing along, before it slows and dips, before rising again. This is where Mark's ardent voice reminds me a lot of James Dean Bradfield – soulful and authoritative.

Adulthood is the other track that was released online in advance of the full album. Consequently familiar, it already seems to be an associated favourite. It starts slowly enough, forges ahead with mid-tempo singalong vibes, before once again receding against a somewhat introspective feel.

The fourth song, Hellion, is probably my favourite. An instant start, fast and harmonic, it pauses for breath and then crashes on and feeds back. Rowdy and mischievous in every sense indeed. This will be the song that people will be singing along to in a packed and sweaty venue once we start up again.

Moriah is heavier, grittier and rockier. A bit of a harder listen for me, a little bit unexpected. A shorter song, but its foundations quickly grow on me.

Flex Yr Head is an older track released online post No Discordance and it gets a deserved spot on the album here. It's a Harker favourite of mine and it's great to have it placed amongst these other songs. It fits well, bridging the old and the new.

Daisychain is another of those songs that starts slowly and builds, but without reaching a crescendo. There's no huge upsurge in this song, which keeps me focused as I listen intently.

The penultimate track is No Sun. Jaunty with a recognisable Harker feel, it's very infectious before the album draws to a close with Antenna. At six and a half minutes long, you need to strap yourself in for this last track, rising and dipping throughout. Screeching vocals, endless guitars and feedback leads to a subtle mid song ballad, before building again to bring the album to an intense conclusion.

It's a clichĂ© to say that second albums often show the band has matured, so I'll try and resist. However, it is different to the first album with a more considered sound. It's certainly not smashed out and not quite as poppy as the first. Those elements are still there so older fans should still love this, but there's parts that actually feel quite sombre; although I'm not sure that was the intent – it's still tremendously catchy and sonorous, pitched perfectly.

Axiom is available on a number of labels in the UK, Europe, the US and Japan – Disconnect Disconnect Records, Shield Recordings, Wiretap Records and Fixing A Hole Records. No matter where you are in the world, I strongly recommend you pick it up.

Pre-order Axiom on Bandcamp here.

Like Harker on Facebook here.

This review was written by Chris Bishton.

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