The band name might suggest beardy, beer-swilling stoner rock, but in fact New Zealand’s Hirsute deliver slow, sorrowful and magnificent death-doom that at times is sublime. ‘Still Waiting’ simultaneously brings a tear to your eye and a grin to your face in a way that only quality doom metal can.
It is quite amazing that this is the work of just one man, Justin Chorley, who recorded the whole thing in his home studio. ‘Still Waiting’ is clearly a labour of love for this Wellington-based misery merchant, and his careful dedication to getting all his doom ducks in a row shines through. Inspired by early Anathema, Katatonia and My Dying Bride, some of the album feels pretty familiar – in a ‘hey-good-to-see-you’ kind of way – but there are also plenty of occasions when Chorley’s Hirsute finds its own, clear, mournful voice.
The six songs are packed with a truckload of ideas, all under the umbrella of sadness. The opening track ‘Treatment Begins’ sets the scene with richly musical guitars wailing behind dreary growled vocals, but before long rumbling drums gallop into view like a stallion, carrying with them clean, delicate vocals. Hints of Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, but perhaps with a little less brute power. The multitude of ideas on ‘Still Waiting’ are always well-honed and brilliantly played – Chorley’s effortless musicianship is remarkable and he has a natural ear for a killer melody.
Generally slow and gentle, Hirsute’s compositions go through numerous changes and transitions, which is testament to Chorley’s immense creativity. However, it can sometimes feel as if the songs are continually restarting, as on ‘To Feel Alive’ and ‘Forever’. The latter of these, the album’s closing track, begins with a handful of spectacular opening verses but these are disappointingly abandoned, never to return. Too many such changes can be slightly unsettling for the listener.
A more positive side of Hirsute’s frequent changes, though, lies in Chorley’s ability to utilise the pauses between them as an emotive device, as on the confident and engrossing ‘Where You Left Me To Drown’. Much like Saint Vitus or 40 Watt Sun, it is often the silence between the notes that builds a sense of anticipation and excitement.
While the album’s title track opens with a slightly forgettable acoustic passage (and then ends almost as soon as it has begun), the following song, ‘Sang The Bird From Its Cage’, which also starts acoustically, is more sophisticated, layered and interesting. It’s crying out for a massive, eyeball-imploding riff to be integrated, but instead the song ends almost too soon. Hopefully in the future, Hirsute will develop this more progressive element.
Perhaps there are two schools of thought when it comes to writing songs: ‘Give Them What They Want’ or ‘Leave Them Wanting More’. Hirsute fall into both categories. Chorley certainly provides lots of what we want, but occasionally leaves us wishing he would allow some of his fantastic ideas a little more space to flourish. Even despite that comparatively minor complaint, this album scores highly because it’s damn good melodic doom metal played from the heart.