Named after the giant sandworms in Frank Herbert’s magnum sci-fi opus Dune, Shai Hulud have toiled hard in the underground for nearly two decades, never troubling the mainstream, but consistently releasing albums of emotive, technical, post-hardcore, melodic metalcore since before the dreaded M word was even conceived. After 2008’s well received “Misanthropy Pure”, they are back with “Reach Beyond the Sun”, featuring guest vocals by none other than former member and New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert, who also handled production duties.
Within seconds of the stop-start, chaotic riffage of opening track ‘The Mean Spirits, Breathing’, we are in familiar territory as the sneaking melodic guitar lines and breakdowns combine in the manner that only Shai Hulud provides. A cheeky lyrical line of “hearts once nourished with hope and compassion” nods to their earlier material, but there is no other band that sounds quite like these guys, and this gives their music a timeless quality. ‘I, Saturnine’ sounds like it could be from the first album, yet the plethora of chugs, widdling guitar lines and continued desire to grab convention by the scruff of the neck and shake vigorously sound utterly relevant in 2013, and is a testament to the skills of the members.
The venomous assault and gang vocals of the title track resemble fellow trailblazers Poison the Well and remind you that this genre is supposed to be emotive as well as heavy, and the fact that so many bands attempted to imitate this style, yet fell so short of the mark is a tragedy. Therefore, bands such as Shai Hulud are so important, for they show us how it’s meant to be done, as the melancholic tones of ‘A Human Failing’ attest to. Gilbert has come a long way since he was recruited as a 14 year old kid on the band’s debut album, and his hoarse, Jamey Jasta-esque vocals and punchy production job are both monumental assets to “Reach Beyond the Sun.”
Guitarist Matt Fox is given free rein to experiment with various tempos, often all within the same sons, and his inimitable style powers the album along and ensures that boredom is not an option. The technical noodling and rapid d-beat drumming of ‘Medicine to the Dead’ just keeps shifting in every direction possible while the more straightforward, Sick of It All style barrage of ‘To Suffer Fools’ will have festival trauma units working overtime this summer. Final track ‘At Least a Plausible Case of Pessimism’ briefly holds back on the pace before launching into an earnest assault of dual-melodic leads, off-kilter arrangements and roars of” rejecting the destiny of human understanding.”
Over a sustained period of time, this assault on the senses could become a tad overbearing for the uninitiated, so the album wisely doesn’t exceed 34 minutes. But with more ideas packed into that time than most bands in the overcrowded metalcore stable manage in their entire careers, it’s plainly evident that Shai Hulud are still a force to be reckoned with, and their continued mastery of the genre they helped form is a testament to their prowess. So reach beyond the imitators and grab this record as soon as you can.