Arson: the act of deliberately setting fire to property. A fitting title for Harakiri For the Sky’s fourth full-length album, as they seem set on providing the soundtrack for a word seemingly intent on setting itself ablaze. With Arson, Harakiri have crafted their most chaotic, aggressive album to date. But with the focus placed more heavily on visceral, aggressive songwriting, can Arson hit the same highs as its predecessors and their more atmospheric approach?
The answer to that question is both yes and no. There are moments on Arson that are undeniably righteous, but it never quite lives up to the standards set by III: Trauma. It certainly isn’t for lack of trying, however. Harakiri try many different ideas on Arson, but unfortunately, some of them just don’t seem to stick like they have on previous albums. However, when the band do manage to land a body shot, it’s a slobberknocker, in true Harakiri fashion. Take, for example, the opening to “Fire, Walk With Me.” It starts off with simple tremolo picking, accompanied by gentle piano playing before exploding into a decidedly groovy drum beat. Nothing mind blowing, but it’s a good trick that gets the job done. I find that these moments where the band push themselves to accomplish much while doing little are some of the album’s strongest pieces. These “less is more” moments really go to show that you don’t actually need to go the whole nine yards to win a six-yard race, but that doesn’t stop the band from trying it more often than they ought to have.
“Stillborn” is one of the biggest offenders, to my ears. Starting off with a fairly standard post-black riff, it spends a solid two and a half minutes setting up atmosphere, only for a galloping riff and drum duo to instantly wash it all away. Taken separately, these two segments are both very enjoyable. They just don’t belong on the same track. There’s even some mellow soft rock groove in the song’s back half. Again, enjoyable, but out of place. And that’s what’s frustrating about Arson, Harakiri are trying too much, but dammit if it doesn’t all sound good.
Though if there’s one area I can always count on Harakiri to excel in, it’s lyricism. This album is packed front to back with bleakly poetic lyrics about suffering and loss. The vitriolic aggression of the music only makes the words more poignant. J.J. is one hell of a lyricist, and he doesn’t hold back on Arson. His verses are definitely the highlight of the album in my eyes, and his vocal work ain’t nothing to scoff at either.
All said, I’m left frustrated by this album. It’s a disjointed affair that tries too hard to be too much. Maybe it’s a victim of expectations, but I can’t ever foresee myself reaching for this album while the rest of the band’s work is available to me. My rating for this album may seem harsh, but I know Harakiri For the Sky are capable of so much more. The sparks just weren’t flying on Arson.