Review || In Hearts Wake - "Ark"

Four albums in, it's safe to say that IHW has created a trademark sound that allows them to experiment on different melodic landscapes without alterating its core. Therefore, the first thing you will notice upon hearing "Ark" is the diversity of sounds. The boys are noticeably more confident in both their playing and their songwriting and they fully prove it; from neck-breaking riffs, to solos, to vocal lines, no song is predictable. Another thing you will notice that the clean vocals are very prominent on this record. Kyle Erich has stepped out of his comfort zone, bringing his melodies at the forefront instead of just seconding Jake Taylor's screams. I firmly believe that this transition wouldn't be successful at an earlier point and that it was necessary in order to put forth and solidify the message of the album. Finally, we should recognise that drummer Conor Ward did a spectacular job on the drums on his first official IHW recording.
Individually, the tracks hold their own character.
"Passage", the second single off of the album, is the ideal intro to what "Ark" is about. "Nomad" is your typical In Hearts Wake composition and deals with liberation through self-realization. The first thing that stuck out when I first heard it, was "I am what I create", a strong phrase that gives food for thought -and which, coincidentally, can also be found in another recent release from that part of the world. "Frequency" pleasantly strays off the beaten path with its catchy melodies -an absolute winner for me. "Warcry" and "Waterborne", the first and third singles respectively, demonstrate a big contrast. While the former continues the ferocious spirit of the first tracks and absolutely deserves to be a staple in their setlist (hearing it on the recent tour only solidified my opinion), the latter is the weakest song of the record. I will come back to that later on. "Arrow" is your breakup song. With its lovely clean vocals and ambience, it could be the new "Wildflower". Although I enjoy the song, I still get the feeling it was thrown in the album when didn't really fit the general concept, because you have to have a ballad. "Flow" is easily a hit-or-miss, as it starts off with the guitar playing the metalcore version of a new-wave melody (just picture a synthesizer instead of the guitar in that part), and slowly builds from there. The main lyrical theme and a subtle The Ghost Inside reference? is once more prevalent here. With "Overthrow" the album returns to the neck-breaking spirit, while "Elemental" will have you hooked with that arabic melody. The entire song seems built on that, even the screaming part fits it perfectly. Well played, lads. "Totality" (and "Now") close the album leaving you with a sort of epic feel, wondering "OK, now what?". I wouldn't mind if the song found its way into their future setlist.
Lyrically, the record revolves around two themes: personal struggle and nature preservation. The message of "Ark" is stronger than ever and the boys are serious about their purpose. But they do it in a very blunt way that could be perceived as shallow preaching, even if you're familiar with the band's beliefs and actions, and that's probably the biggest downside of the album. The second downside is the hype around "Waterborne", my nemesis. As I previously mentioned, to me, that's the weakest track. It's not to say that it bad or uninspired; it's just...vanilla. And not memorable. Even now, several spins later, the only thing I seem to remember or notice when I listen to the song is a synth in the chorus. I undestand the rationale behind releasing it as the third single and linking it to the We Are Waterborne initiative but the album contains some way stronger tracks, like the anthemic "Elemental" with its excellent composition.
Overall, the album offers quite a fresh look in an over-saturated genre. It is definitely a step further from "Skydancer" but at times it feels like the band is trying too hard to test new waters. Most tracks still hold their IHW core and are further built and embellished, but they don't always have the dynamic to keep the listener fully focused. The album reaches a low-point in the middle and when it takes off again, it's almost over. It's not a bad album by any means; the effort the guys have put on is more than evident and I'm very curious where they will be heading to next. It's just not the stellar masterpiece that most people probably anticipated.

This turned out to be an essay and way longer than I expected. Factually, it's the longest review I've ever written. "Ark" was one of the 5 or 6 albums I anticipated for 2017.
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