Hyborian are cursed in the sense that every review of them mentions Mastodon and Baroness. But it’s hard not to – Hyborian takes cues from those bands’ riff-driven Leviathan and Blue Record periods respectively, but with vocal heights that neither band could reach at the time. Their 2017 debut album Volume I was top notch. The only glaring issue was it was too short! On Volume II, the band continues to deliver their signature prog-sludge fury in an album that’s 8 minutes longer than the last one.
One big way the band has stepped up from their debut is in their choruses. Be it the glorious “chaos reigns” refrain of “Planet Destructor” or the triumphant hooks of “Expanse”, the choruses on Volume II are bound to give you chills. With the vocal duo of guitarists Martin Bush and Ryan Bates, Hyborian is one of the best equipped bands in the sludge metal game. Bush takes a majority of the lead vocal duties, but we do get to hear Bates step up to the mic more than on the last album. Both singers deliver these burly, yet incredibly melodic bellows that are perfect for this style of metal. Bush’s strength is his range, while Bates’ voice is deeper and more gruff – though to debate their vocal burliness is like trying to argue whether getting hit by a freight train or a high-speed rail would hurt more.
On “Sanctuary”, we get to hear both vocalists trade verses. Bush gives his cleanest performance here, almost sounding like James Hetfield, while Bates sounds his most barbaric. Both singers overlap in the chorus, and while I think the chorus gets a bit too cluttered vocally, it’s still a cool idea and a killer track overall. They do a better job of this in the chorus of the opening track “Driven by Hunger”. It’s a hell of an opener, and it sets the tone that Hyborian have only gotten heavier, bucking the trend of the prog-sludge giants before them who’ve gone softer.
In addition to stacking counter melodies and harmonies via their mic stands, Hyborian are also skilled riff masters. The two axemen’s ability to intertwine and shapeshift riffs is astounding. The band seems to have found some magical infinite well of riffs; just when you think you’ve found a song’s signature riff, the band throws another in for good measure. And let’s not forget that this band is a trio. While the first track may be driven by hunger, this whole album is driven by drummer Justin Rippeto’s primal tom work and hard-hitting grooves. It’s hard to pinpoint his best drum moments because he just brings it on every song.
None of the tracks are weak on their own, but as we get toward the end of the album, there aren’t really any surprises – with the exception of that incredible chorus in “Expanse”. Because of this, there is a bit of listener fatigue right up through the fading chords of “In the Hall of the Travellers”. It also doesn’t help that this song, as well as “Planet Destructor” have these extended outros that overstay their welcome. Still though, Volume II overall is another strong showing for Hyborian.
While there are comparisons to be made to Mastodon and Baroness, Hyborian have continued to develop a sound they can truly call their own. I haven’t had the chance to read the album’s accompanying novel yet (The Traveller: A Hyborian Tale, written by guitarist Martin Bush), but the lore behind both of the band’s albums is fascinating. They have both the conceptual and technical chops of a prog band, but they also remember to make music that is actually, you know, good. I’ve seen the term stoner metal used to describe this band, but their music has way too much energy and ambition to be lumped in that category. Hyborian truly has what it takes to be the next great sludge band, and I highly look forward to what they do on Volume III.
Hyborian’s new album Volume II is out now via Season of Mist.
Best Tracks: Planet Destructor, Expanse, Driven by Hunger, Sanctuary
Weakest Tracks: n/a
FFO: Mastodon, Baroness, High on Fire
Overall Score: B+