In Hearts Wake – Skydancer
While there was a certain sadness to Earthwalker, a personal, emotional edge, its sequel crackles with a darker, more intense energy reflective of the record’s more worldly outlook.
When it comes to forward planning, work ethic and marketing genius, In Hearts Wake deserve a big pat on the back. Recording two full-length albums in one fell swoop and keeping the second one completely secret, all so that it can be dropped at peak hype one year later, is no easy feat. However, this also opens Skydancer up to greater scrutiny – will a body of material written and recorded at the same time as its predecessor show a big enough improvement from Earthwalker to meet the expected standard of album number three?
Despite a calming intro track, we get off to a good start with the re-recorded version of the title track (originally released as a standalone single at the end of 2013), revitalised by tighter production and spiced up with guest vocals from the unmistakable Jonathan Vigil (The Ghost Inside). Lead single “Breakaway”, while not as enrapturing as Earthwalker’s “Divine”, hits its stride in a driving chorus and an excellent buildup to a staccato breakdown.
Gems are to be found midway through the record with the stomping verse grooves of “Badlands” – a track impeccably suited to the “Father Sky” side of the paired records – and the up-tempo “Insomnia”, whose chorus won’t be leaving your head any time soon. This pair of tracks show off the two sides to clean vocalist/bassist Kyle Erich’s voice – while “Badlands” demonstrates the rougher, Linkin Park-esque chorus style he began to introduce on Earthwalker, “Insomnia” is smoother on the ears.
Though instrumental track “Oblivion” breaks up the flow uncomfortably, the second half of the album still holds its share of surprises – “Wildfire” is a late highlight with another stellar chorus, “Cottonmouth” seems to give a shout out to the band’s long-time fans with the inclusion of another ‘Halo’ sample (a throwback to “Survival” from 2012’s Divination), and “Erase” includes a guest rap verse from Hacktivist co-frontmen J Hurley and Ben Marvin.
Ultimately, it’s through comparing Skydancer to its partner album that we uncover both its major strengths and weaknesses. There is so little difference in mix and production between the two that it’s hard at times to remember that this is a new record. On the flip side, while there was a certain sadness to Earthwalker, a personal, emotional edge, its sequel crackles with a darker, more intense energy reflective of the record’s more worldly outlook. What’s also impressive is the attention to detail paid by the band in order to create parallels between the two albums – the overall structure of the albums.
The dilemma of Skydancer is still whether to judge it objectively against the ‘game-changer’ standard we expect from a third album, or whether to take into consideration the circumstances under which it was created. But whether you call it a step up, a step down, or a plateau, at the end of the day it’s still a heck of a decent record.
The Essential Track: “Insomnia” – Featuring one of the best choruses on the record, this one will stick in your head like gaff tape.