Harbinger: A Letter Soaked In Agony

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In the past decade, Nottingham’s UK Tech-Fest has become a fixture of the UK metal scene. Focusing primarily on progressive and tech metal, it has worked as a proving ground for a lot of upcoming British bands. They’ve put fresh-faced youngsters on stage alongside established acts like LEPROUS and VILDHJARTA and worked as a launch pad for several careers. London lads HARBINGER are a classic example. The five-piece have trod the boards at UK Tech-Fest so many times they’re practically the house band. They’re due to headline the second stage at this year’s edition and are beloved by the festival faithful, so it’s a bit surprising to discover they don’t actually play tech metal themselves.

They’re a difficult band to pigeonhole. They’ve got elements of deathcore, thrash and groove metal in their sound, but the defining trait is this; they’re heavy. Their recent mini album A Letter To Anguish is about as well-mannered as a Kaiju that just got its toe stepped on. It’s precise and well-crafted, but it’s a scalpel disguised as a sledgehammer. Their willingness to mix up genres in a great big musical blender gives some idea as to why they keep getting invited back to the festival, but HARBINGER make a nastier racket than about ninety percent of the bands that play there.

According to bassist Kris Aarre, this ‘everything goes, so long as its heavy’ approach to music is entirely intentional. “We like to combine a lot of different subgenres of metal,” he tells us over Zoom. “We kind of dip our toes into all elements, maybe not power metal? That’s the only one that stands out as a style we don’t do, but we are a diverse group of people in terms of our tastes. Me and our drummer are from a hardcore background, Dilan [Alves, vocals] is more into deathcore but he also likes bands like DANCE GAVIN DANCE and things like that as well. Ben [Sutherland, guitarits] really likes his technical metal and Charlie [Griffiths, guitars/backing vocals] brings in elements of progressive metal, his favourite band are BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME. We put all that into a melting pot and we have a mantra of make it as catchy as possible, and make people bang their heads.”

It’s an approach that’s worked very well for them so far. HARBINGER are still relative newcomers, but since forming in 2015, they’ve released one full-length album and three EPs, and secured support slots with RINGS OF SATURN and DECAPITATED. They might be linked to the tech-metal scene, but the open-ended nature of their music means they can play pretty much anywhere, so long as the distortion pedals are switched on. “We can play hardcore shows, we played Bloodstock a few years ago, we can play anywhere that has an element of heavy to it. And that’s why we’re a band, that’s the point of us! If someone came in saying, ‘yo, I’ve learned how to play the harpsichord and the hurdy-gurdy, can we work these into the song?’ We’d be like yep, let’s see how it sounds.”

A Letter To Anguish is also notable for being their first official release with new singer Dilan Alves. Listening to his confident performance, it’s astonishing to think he’s not been a part of the band since day one and Kris is full of praise for his new bandmate. “The stories we’re telling are his stories. And he’s helped out with the song structures too. He can listen to demo tracks and say ‘it would be really cool if the drums came in here instead, or if we played this riff in 4/4 instead of 6/8,’ he was bringing in those structural, architectural elements. He’s a part of our cohesive song writing unit.”

He’s also provided the most personal touch in the shape of two harrowing songs. The title track and the following Guiltless are both based on a particularly difficult personal experience he went through. “I kind of wrote both of them while going through a toxic, abusive relationship at the time,” he explains. “That relationship went on for a couple of years and during that time I saw it go down a path and I thought at the time it was my fault, but once I was out of it and talked to people, I started to question where my mind was at the time. I was being put down all the time but people around me saw what was going on from the start. It was only when I was out of it that I realised I shouldn’t always be blaming myself.”

Harbinger live @ UK Tech-Fest 2022. Photo Credit: Serena Hill Photography
Harbinger live @ UK Tech-Fest 2022. Photo Credit: Serena Hill Photography

Together, the two songs form the mini album’s biggest selling point. It’s taken Dilan over a year to put the lyrics together, some of which were written before the relationship ended and he was in a totally different headspace. A Letter To Anguish is a song that reflects back on itself, the lyricist questioning his own words and what led him to believe them so fervently. Guiltless makes an intriguing counterpoint, one where he tries to think like the other person involved and understand their perspective.

Guiltless was me putting myself in the mind of someone who thinks they’re right all the time. No matter how much their relationships and friendships fall apart, no matter how much they hurt someone, they always think they’re right.”

Together, these two songs may be the best that HARBINGER have written so far. While they are obviously dark however, there’s a lighter side to this record and you don’t have to delve too deep into difficult subjects to enjoy it. Hate File for instance is a three and a half minute mosh maker, and when Kris describes what it’s about, the forward-thinking, progressively minded multi-instrumentalist bursts out laughing: “It’s about hating someone.”

HARBINGER have the potential to be huge stars of the UK scene. While they’re almost certainly going to keep returning to UK Tech-Fest, they’re not limited by their adopted scene; they could play with DESPISED ICON one night and PERIPHERY the next and sound right at home at both. A Letter To Anguish is a bold statement of intent and the future is very, very heavy.

A Letter To Anguish is out now via self-release.

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The post Harbinger: A Letter Soaked In Agony appeared first on Distorted Sound Magazine.

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