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Album Review: Halcyon Way – Bloody but Unbowed

I was a pretty big fan of Halcyon Way in my college years. The Atlanta group knew their way around a hook, and 2010’s Building the Towers remains a strong prog metal album. I ended up losing interest around 2014’s Conquer; it wasn’t terrible by any means, but the songwriting didn’t connect in the same way as its predecessors. It didn’t help that diminishing the power metal aspects of their style in favor of melodeath and alternative metal influences yielded mixed results.

As indicated by the Queensrÿche-esque buildup on the opening “Deevolutionize,” Bloody but Unbowed brings back the epic elements of Halcyon Way’s early outings. In addition to the compositions having an almost conceptual tone, there are more driving tempos and the guitar leads frequently boast a classic metal flair. The vocals also get more chances to soar and deliver solid layering, though they still serve as a balance to the ever-dominant death grunts.

These old school elements make for a more balanced listen than Conquer, but the band’s modern influences remain the most prominent. Every other song features some sort of breakdown and an electronic undercurrent can be felt throughout. Several songs like lead single “Blame” feature an odd cutoff effect on the vocals that recalls David Draiman, though thankfully avoiding any monkey noises that’d come with such an association.

Halcyon Way’s streamlined style and talented musicianship has always been tight enough to keep their musical grab bags from getting too jarring, but the songwriting doesn’t leave much of an impact. Tracks like the stomping “Slaves to Silicon” and the upbeat “Ten Thousand Ways” show some promise, but the album’s riff work is overall nondescript with often unengaging vocal hooks to match.

As much as I’m personally unimpressed with Bloody but Unbowed, I give Halcyon Way props for releasing an album that attempts to encompass the sounds of their decade long career. The songwriting isn’t what it used to be, but the band still knows how to mix their various influences with strong musicianship. I’d be curious to hear what people on the more core/alt sides of prog think of this album; I can’t help but feel like it’s not really “for me” anymore…

Highlights:
“Slaves to Silicon”
“Ten Thousand Ways”
“Desolate”

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