Shai Hulud are a band that have always seemed to have somewhat of a polarizing effect on a large portion of the hardcore scene. They have a legion of die hard, passionate fans, but they also have a decent amount of detractors that mostly point to their rotating cast of vocalists as a reason for their disinterest. That gap seemed to get pushed a bit further when Shai Hulud released Misanthropy Pure in 2008. Although not a complete departure, the album saw the band's metal side coming more to the forefront, which didn't seem to sit well with some longtime fans. I found the record to be enjoyable, but have a number of friends that vehemently stated otherwise.
Now we've come to 2013, and Shai Hulud still seem to be without a permanent vocalist, but that didn't stop them from writing and recording a brand new album. Not only is Reach Beyond The Sun what many people would refer to as a "return to form", but it also features lead vocals performed by Chad Gilbert, who many people fondly remember as the vocalist on classic Shai Hulud albums A Profound Hatred Of Man, Hearts Once Nourished With Hope And Compassion and the split 10" with Indecision. That means it has been a full 15 years since this combination of characters has been recorded and put to wax, but upon first listen to Reach Beyond The Sun, it feels as if that gap in years never happened.
Kicking off with "The Mean Spirits Breathing", Reach Beyond The Sun begins at full force with a song that is a tribute to the recently deceased Danny Bobis from the Long Island band, Cipher. From the get-go, elements of past Shai Hulud records are heavily present, but they don't feel like a cheap rehashing of old formulas that garnered them their fan base. The band's punk roots shine nicely during many of the record's more up tempo songs, the melodies and lead guitar tracks cut through incredibly well while not overpowering the root chords and the gang vocals present on many tracks are mixed so perfectly that they are able to convey a sense of raw emotion and anger.
"I, Saturnine" was originally intended to be the intro for the album, which makes sense, as it's a mere 1:46 long, but there's a lot of aggression packed into that brief time frame. Reach Beyond The Sun's title track follows next, which can still be heard here. As with a large chunk of Shai Hulud's discography, it treads the duplicity of both optimism and pessimism quite well, acknowledging a contempt for humanity, but also a hope for brighter times.
As the album progresses through songs like "Man Into Demon", "Medicine To The Dead" and "To Suffer Fools", a sense of boredom never kicks in. Each song on the album maintains its own identity and song structure, and you can hear the band's wide array of influences on display with riffs that could easily be thought of as homage to the likes of Negative Approach, Propagandhi and Kreator.
Track 8, "Think The Adder Benign" is probably my favorite. It's not the fastest, nor the heaviest song on the record, but it has a raw intensity to it that contributes incredibly well to a vocal performance from Chad that sounds as emotional ever. It also provides a great setup to the last three songs on the album, which provide their own arc for the end of the album. "Monumental Graves" and "If A Mountain Be My Obstacle" are a great two-punch build up to the more melodic sound of "At Least A Plausible Case For Pessimism" that closes out Reach Beyond The Sun.
All in all, Reach Beyond The Sun is a ridiculously great record. The production is spot on, giving equal weight to all instruments with just enough room to breathe on their own while still keeping a sense of cohesiveness. For those that were fans of Shai Hulud in the 90s, but have drifted away from them over the years, Reach Beyond The Sun could be a more than fitting re-entrance back to the fold. And for those of us that have continued to like just about everything the band has done over the years, this album fits perfectly amongst the rest of Shai Hulud's gems.
Reach Beyond The Sun is available via Metal Blade Records.