The tolerance level towards In Hearts Wake is far higher than it should be. Not only are they the poster boys for tepid Aussie beatdown-core, but considering their hometown is Byron Bay, the same as Parkway Drive, you’d think that would be the motivation to up their game. Instead they’ve gone down the same route as other countrymen The Amity Affliction, unashamedly rehashing a painfully basic formula over the course of their entire career.
That’s not saying that In Hearts Wake are as bad as The Amity Affliction; whereas there’s not a redemptive bone in that band’s body, In Hearts Wake at the very least seem to care about what they do. Still, that doesn’t exactly set any fires going, probably on par with praising them for being able to play their instruments. And even with the very minor progressions here, third album Ark sees In Hearts Wake once again adhering to their completely immobile guidelines.
To give them credit though, where In Hearts Wake have always done well is in their lyrical focus primarily criticising humankind’s wanton destruction of the environment which, especially considering Australia’s stringent lack of freedom of speech laws and the history the subject has, carries a significant amount of weight in its intentions. This time, the central conceit of the album surrounds the Earth as humanity’s ark, housing us only for our abuse of it and its resources. And with the seagull cries and crashing waves of the introductory title track, and the interwoven maritime imagery on Passage, In Hearts Wake set up an interesting narrative idea, only to cut it off two tracks in. That weight of intention struggles to translate into practice, and what could’ve been an album adorned with nautical or biblical symbolism to set it on its own, more identifiable path quickly reverts to In Hearts Wake’s typical style of environmental protesting, with Warcry and Waterborne being as broad in their points as ever. Grounding in wider realism alone means that Ark at least sits better than other metalcore in this vein, but having tracks like Frequency and Arrow framed as love letters to the Earth itself is bound to spark more than a few sardonic smirks, and the fact that such a fruitful concept is abandoned so early on just shows a lack of ingenuity on the band’s part.
Speaking of a lack of ingenuity, there’s the instrumentation which has been the most substantial fly in the ointment for In Hearts Wake for some time now. That seems to be an issue addressed on Ark, as their original one dimension has been fleshed out somewhat, like the thundering stomp of Passage or the Arabic influences that are woven through Elemental. Even so, they don’t last long, and for what In Hearts Wake are doing here, it doesn’t help that it still sounds dated and predictable with the sort of tumbling, sharp-edged riffage you’d get from virtually every technically-minded metal band. And considering that, three songs in, Nomad decides to reanimate the corpse of breakdown-minded genericore from 2012 in a move that nobody asked for, progression for In Hearts Wake feels like a perfunctory addition rather than a goal.
Even the vocal ensemble could use a timely update now, relying on the two-man, scream-a-bit-sing-a-bit paradigm that shows its age in a less-than-flattering way. Jake Taylor is admittedly a good screamer, with a snarled rumble to his vocals that complements some of the more metallic instrumentation, but switch over to Kyle Erich, stuck in the mid-2000s with a buffed-up, toe-curlingly earnest delivery that the band as a whole struggle to recover from. There are certainly worse singers in metalcore, but especially when he takes the lead on tracks like Frequency, the influx of saccharine into the core sound gathers little to no steam.
That’s a lot of criticism to make, but in reality, Ark isn’t a bad album, inasmuch as it’s just not worth caring about. In Hearts Wake aren’t a talentless band, and when they apply themselves and factor in some more unique ideas, the seeds of something far more interesting than what they actually do are there. Yet this feels unnecessarily safe, coasting for the most part on old ideas that haven’t evolved or even aged well, and yet they’re the ones that In Hearts Wake automatically gravitate to. Ark needs to be the last album where this is the case, for the band’s sake; there’s only so much people can take of the same album rehashed every couple of years.
For fans of: The Amity Affliction, Memphis May Fire, Northlane
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Ark’ by In Hearts Wake is released on 26th May on UNFD.