Hackneyed - Burn After Reaping (Nuclear Blast/Riot)

I did the unforgiveable and had high hopes for Hackneyed's sophomore release. While the album is technically proficient, I found myself disappointed with it. And it wasn't for a while that I worked out why.

The first Hackneyed release, which had nearly everybody in the world going bananas – including me – about such a young, proficient death metal band, was one of those hallmark releases. It made people sit up and take notice, not just because of the band members' youth, but also because of the band's mature sound. Naturally, then, being so excited about Death Prevails, I had really looked forward to Burn After Reaping.

Which is the first sin in music journalism. I should have left all my expectations at the door. I didn't, and I was therefore disappointed. But it took me a while to work out that it was the fact that the Hackneyed sound was rather stripped back compared to the band's debut.

Burn After Reaping is chunky, mid-paced death metal. It's downtuned rhythms and the rhythms of vocalist Phil, fit together neatly, one complementing the other nicely. In parts, it is actually the vocal rhythms that drive the groove: something that many deathcore bands just can't seem to the get the hang of.

But the mix of Burn After Reaping is interesting too: the vocals are higher, and the overall sound of the release doesn't have the homogeneity I'd hoped it would have. Somehow, the fact that the music has 'stripped itself', in a sense, reduces the album's ability to feel musically whole.

All in all, I have to admit that unlike Death Prevails, I found myself getting bored with Burn After Reaping.

Let this not lead you to believe that Hackneyed are not technically proficient: they are. The problem, as is a problem with many sophomore releases, is that there is an absence of soul. It was more like work than enjoyment – though talking to the band, or watching videos of the recording process it would appear otherwise. But I'm going to let this stand: Burn After Reaping is disappointing simply because it felt to me that the band were working hard instead of enjoying what they were doing.

There are, however, stand out moments on this album. The rolling arpeggios in the intro to Detholution is one; the intensity of March of the Worms is another; the technical ability evident on Finger on the Trigger is another; and the chunky rolling riffs and percussion just prior to the furiously played central passage midway through Home Meat Home is one of the best. Even with the latter, though, I couldn't help but feel that if it was a little bit faster it would have been outstanding, instead of merely 'best of the release'.

I found that some of the structure of the guitar work was cliched, and some of the melodic work has been done to death in the same, or similar vein, as a hundred other bands. What it does have is a peculiarly Hackneyed spin about it, so it's not an entirely negative thing; it's simply that the release didn't have the intense personal nature I was hoping to see.

The most impressive thing about Burn After Reaping is the construction of the release as a whole, in terms of the structure of the tracklisting. I allude here to the rhythmic passages that tend to repeat, however subtly, throughout the album; which is why, by the time you get to track 11, Last Man on Earth, you find yourself subconsciously really digging this release. It's kind of like the type of weed that creeps up on you: you think it's not doing anything until suddenly you realise you're quite stoned.

While Hackneyed haven't pulled anything halfway innovative out of their collective arses with this release, the way they've structured it hints at a maturity and sense of 'whole' that many older bands lack.

So in a nutshell, while I was nowhere near as impressed with Burn After Reaping as I was with Death Prevails, any second album is a tough call, especially when the debut is highly successful. Still, when these guys get around to their third full-length release, I have no doubt that it will step up and change slightly.

If you're a death metal fan, you'll get into Burn After Reaping. Just don't go into it thinking it's like Death Prevails because you're likely to be slightly disappointed.

Hackneyed's Burn After Reaping is out now on Nuclear Blast/Riot.