Heirs explores strange detours.
A few years ago, I had hoped for the birth of a new genre: pop-metal. As ridiculous as that sounds, I could just taste the mixture—brilliant, shimmering guitars, anthemic, catchy choruses and brutal breakdowns all forced through the filter of shiny, shiny production. The reason I could envision the dawn of this sound was thanks to two releases: Torche’s Harmonicraft along with And So I Watch You From Afar’s All Hail Bright Futures. Torche’s album was all buoyant pop covered in sludge, reaching metal Valhalla with blistering guitar solos, while ASIWYFA dabbled in math-rock that, despite 13/8 time signatures, was determined to make the listener dance. Torche eventually returned to their sludgier roots with this year’s Restarter, but the Belfast lads of ASIWYFA have continued down that band’s merry, jumpy path with Heirs.
All Hail Bright Futures was an odd bird, somewhere between the pounding attack of Botch and the mathy noodlings of Minus the Bear. Even with sky-high guitar solos and avalanching drum fills, ASIWYFA seemed to be scoring an episode of “Adventure Time.” It was all whimsy and exuberance. Heirs still carries that DNA, certainly, but it finds ASIWYFA experimenting a bit more and getting in touch with its weird(er) side.
The first five or so seconds of opening track “Run Home” should tell you if you’ll have any interest in Heirs. A frenetic guitar whirlwind that feels like a rainbow crashing down on the ears starts things off, and things only get more hyperactive from there. The riffs are so sugary that diabetics should avoid them at all costs, but for those looking for an energy boost, you can’t do much better than the jittery riff of “Run Home.” This is ASIWYFA’s signature, insane, mind-bending chops used to create the most manically gleeful music possible. The chant-along vocals don’t hurt either, with their stop-start rhythm on “These Secret Kings I Know” giving a childlike playfulness to the boys’ promises of secret kingdoms and realms. There are plenty of indie-rockers that would kill for a riff as catchy as “Redesigned a Million Times,” if they had the technical ability to pull it off.
What separates Heirs from its big brother is an injection of experimentation. All Hail Bright Futures was a near flawless slab of math-pop, but Heirs wanders off the road, finding strange detours. The major caveat is that not all of the ramblings work. “Fucking Lifer” works over a staccato groove that seems unnatural and ridged in comparison to the rest of the album’s fluid work. The title track, while lovely, doesn’t quite flesh out its seven-minute runtime and “Redesigned a Million Times” ignores the band’s usual yell-along verses, going for an off-kilter performance that almost derails the song.
That being said, Heirs’ most thrilling moments do come from ASIWYFA diving into waters that were untested on the last record. “Wasps,” an early highlight, is based around a whirling maelstrom of guitars, accented by Chris Wee’s fluttering tom hits. It barely reaches the two-and-a-half minute mark, but it still feels stunningly expansive. “People Not Sleeping” finds ASIWYFA in one of its oddest rhythms with Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy’s guitars bouncing off each other, creating tension and a bouncing sound. “A Beacon, a Compass, an Anchor,” unlike the title track, does live up to its long runtime, and closer “Tryer, You” is a delightfully sweet closer, filled with twinkling guitars and a sense of wonder that reminds me of Super Mario Galaxy’s smile-defined portrayal of the stars.
But it’s “Animal Ghosts” that serves as Heirs’ finest moment and maybe the band’s finest since their dark face-melter “K is for Killing Spree.” In math-rock, the currency is practically epic riffs due to their abundance, but the stellar guitar work here cannot be overstated. Everything booms and bursts at the perfect moments, from the opening salvo to the introduction of horns, backing the tornado-like force the guitar controls. Like “Wasps,” “Animal Ghosts” is minimal in its length, but maximal in every other front. It’s final boss music at its finest.
The core of “Animal Ghosts” is what makes ASIWYFA such a joyous, sweeping force. That combination of massive, thrashing ability and giddy excitement that usually can only be found in five-year-olds. Heirs is another gleeful escapade, a welcome remedy for dourness in any form.