In some hypercritical sections of the Stoner world, it was suggested that Hyborian, Volume I (The Company), the debut album from Kansas City heavies Hyborian, was rescued from a certain monotony merely by some lighter, synthetic nuances. Whereas it may seem an indicator of a lack of imagination to see the follow-up named Volume II (Season of Mist), it’s an all-too-common error to assume that the content will follow the same path.
Opener ‘Driven By Hunger’ sets off at a rampant pace, a clean production and staccato tempo giving a feel not unlike that of a Low-end Metallica. The blend of riff and lead at the midway point – a mix of grease and Eastern melody – is enlivening, while the overriding rhythm is a rapid rattle of rifles, with the dual vocal of Martin Bush and Ryan Bates a call to the Gods from the caverns of hell. The buzzsaw riff of the ensuing ‘Stormbound’ are also deep and heavy, while the flexible vocal and dazzling lead flurries reflect the fantasy lyrical content: a template adopted by the hulking brute that is ‘Sanctuary’, its soaring dual chorus inspiring a real screamalong; its bullet riff and bold rhythm attacking the head while retaining a real fluidity.
Given this opening salvo it’s hard to understand how the ‘monotony’ adjective was arrived at. The relentless energy doesn’t stop there: the breakneck Thrash and high-pitched roars of ‘Planet Destructor’ call to mind some of Slayer‘s more NWOBHM-influenced moments whilst maintaining a crushing weight: while elements of ‘The Entity’ evoke the Caveman Doom resonance of Conan‘s Jon Davis. The hostility continues with ‘Expanse’ but here it’s pleasantly graced by a comparatively melodic chorus and straight Rock solos reminiscent of Foo Fighters.
In fact, there’s no little amount of creativity, of a subtle difference, on offer. The bruising riffage of ‘Portal’ shows a Progressive side with off-kilter rhythmic structures and astral-flavoured lead projections akin to Cities of Mars, its delicate acoustic epilogue cruising into the speedy punches and sinister swells of closer ‘In the Hall of the Travellers’. Here the mid-section fizzes with power yet ebbs and flows melodically, before terrifying the listener with a clutch of backward messaging and Morse code that seems to intimate the arrival of Beelzebub.
It’s a really suggestive, poignant way to close an album which delivers joy: both to headbangers, and to those who appreciate the delicacies of life. There’s definitely nothing of the prosaic about these guys: just unforgiving anger coated in the occasional velvet glove.
7 / 10