With the Australian underground scene arguably one of the best in the world at the moment, US big-hitter Relapse Records has struck gold with the signing of Brisbane, Queensland quartet HopeDrone, for début album Cloak of Ash. Eschewing the morbid bleakness of fellow countrymen Woodsof Desolation, Hope Drone have embraced the quintessentially American sound of post-black metal, with furious riffs, mournful soundscapes and tortured vocals the order of the day. The cover art is fantastic and worthy of mention; an arresting image of cloud and wave merged into an enveloping maelström that threatens to consume all and sundry. It’s the perfect metaphor for the band’s sound.
Starting any record, let alone your début off with a twenty-minute track is a seriously brave move, yet Hope Drone appears to be utterly unfazed. ‘Unending Grey’ begins with a torrent of cascading riffs and anguished howls before the pace stems and the listener is guided through a devastatingly beautiful section of sombre guitar notes and stark percussion. However the respite is short-lived, for when the pace picks up again, it’s utterly ferocious, with the band reaching speeds that the likes of Deafheaven can only dream of. That they do it while maintaining the same feeling of alien bleakness through the entire twenty minutes is nothing short of amazing.
After the devastating fury of pretty much a full EP’s worth of material as a mere opening track; the ten minute follow-up ‘Riverbeds Hewn in Marrow’ almost feels trite by comparison. However any doubts are soon washed away by the soaring guitar-lines and restless, pummeling percussion. This is continued with the billowing darkness that opens ‘The World Inherited’ but the rug is once again pulled from under our feet as the track decays into a tortuous crawl through near-funeral doom territory where release is an abstract hope.
The influence of noisy US black metallers Ash Borer and sadly missed Irish trailblazers Altar of Plagues is keenly felt throughout Cloak of Ash with Hope Drone devoting equal time to the crushing slow section as well as teeth-rattling speed. However, rip-off merchants they aren’t, for there is none of the tree-hugging, ritualistic elements of the former influence and little of the urban, ambient coldness of the latter. Instead, Hope Drone appears to have cultivated a vaguely nautical feel with song titles such as ‘The Waves Forever Shatter Upon Our Shores’ and ‘Carried Apart By the Ceaseless Tides.’ Indeed the overriding feeling is being swept up and torn asunder in the teeth of the almighty ocean; bereft of hope and powerless to withstand the awesome power of nature.
While they need to be careful to avoid falling into the trap of fast bit/slow bit/fast bit, and let’s be honest; seventy-seven minutes is way too long for any album, Hope Drone have done pretty much everything right on their first effort and even in a scene full to bursting, prove that it just takes a bit of imagination and ambition to stand out from the pack. Fantastic effort.