Expansive, grandiose, often sorrow-laden soundscapes: that is the first thing that pops into mind when the term ‘post-metal’ is used. It is a rather misleading label that does not imply the natural progression of metal past its previous form. Instead, it refers to bands that draw the instrumental proviso of post-rock, i.e. lengthy compositions that sway between mellow calm and tempestuous climaxes, and imbue it with melancholy and an almost oppressively heavy atmosphere. It seems odd, then, to read of a band that juxtaposes this with uplifting and life-affirming lyrics normally found in modern hardcore. What Echoes have achieved in this instance with their début “The Pursuit”, four years in the making, is at once remarkable and a little perplexing.
Eschewing the usual contrived ‘build-up’ intro favored by many post-metal bands, the guys open with the grand entrance that is ‘Empty Lungs’, a trembling guitar line wailing over the thundering crash of bass and drums. After a brief drop into ambient territories, they properly introduce vocalist Joshua Thurbin, who bellows his heart (and lungs) out in a cathartic manner, such as in the climax near the end of ‘Leaving None Behind’. This climax also spotlights the magnificent mixing of the album, particularly in the tight drum sound.
Concerning their songwriting abilities, Echoes tinkers with audience expectations, frequently dropping into sections of mellow post-rock before slamming back into high gear at short notice, done to greatest effect in the title track, but confusing to follow at first. There’s even a nod to ambient artists in the interlude ‘Navigate’, which draws from Steve Roach’s drone works or Hammock’s ambient post-rock.
Considering the band’s fixation on dynamics between crash and calm, it may be surprising to learn that there’s plenty of room for catchy hooks, both of vocal and guitar variety. The tremolo-bent guitar lines, emerging on every track and quickly ingrain in the listener’s head, range from the mellow in ‘Rivers’ to the shrieking in ‘For What It’s Worth’, or the instrumental climax in ‘Wooden Hearts’. Meanwhile, most prominent of the vocal hooks is in the lead single ‘Honour Lost’, which flaunts a mighty and galvanizing chorus to “light up the dark”, and a similarly empowering moment in final track ‘See & Believe’ with the call to “arise, arise, arise and come with me”.
Oddly for post-metal, the vocals play a huge role in the band’s sound, and are a commanding presence throughout. Thurbin’s raw, full-throated screams belong more to a hardcore background than a metallic one, bringing back memories of Rinoa, Gray Lines Of Perfection and parts of Devil Sold His Soul, but out of that context they sound oddly human and heartfelt. Drummer Oliver Todd has stated that there is a positive message beneath the negative and melancholic music they make. To an extent this is true, however the positivity may only be felt by a certain group of people. For those who are monotheistic, lines such as “I held out my hands for the arms of the Almighty” provide a warm comfort of their faith, but those who do not follow these beliefs may find these statements ring hollow. That said, there are odd lines like the heartfelt fatherly touch to ‘Wooden Hearts’ or the Hamlet reference in ‘For What It’s Worth’, which jump out as memorable.
From a musical standpoint, Echoes have nailed a formula which serves them well; their post-metal demands full attention, and holds up under repeat spins. The band’s conviction in both the genre and their faith is laudable and audible, and “The Pursuit” is a strong record because of it. Even if the subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste, this album is a recommended listen for newcomers and fans of the post-metal genre.