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31 May 2011

Review - The Cruelty of Great Expectations

Source: Metal Team UK


13 years is a long time to wait for an album, but that’s just how long fans of Northern Irish band Honey for Christ have had to wait for a full length release. I’ll admit, I’d not heard of them before this one landed on my desk, and with a promise of ‘depressive metal’ and a bleak minimalist cover depicting a hooded figure standing by a doorway with only a small stepladder and a noose in shot, I was all set for some depressing and overtly bleak black metal in the vein of Lifelover or Thy Light. What you actually get when you press play though is not that at all, and is rather surprising.

From the first few bars of opening track ‘All Hope Was Strangled’, it’s clear that the order of the day is not at all black metal, but straight up heavy metal, as deep chugging guitars and a straight ahead drum rhythm charge in with plenty of purpose but little finesse. Andy Clarke is clearly a good singer in the very literal sense, but his voice feels out of place with the lyrics being sung. With such a clean vocal style and such an emotional and depressing subject matter, you need to have a certain passion or intensity to carry it off, to give the listener a chance to feel the despondency with you. Clarke does not have that, and delivers the lines with such a lack of conviction that it almost sounds as if he’s reading them off a lyric sheet at times. It’s not all bad news however, as Honey for Christ are good songwriters. Lyrically they vary wildly between excellent and downright clumsy, but there’s no faulting the musical composition, especially on the atmospheric ‘Another Way Down’ and the Gojira influenced ‘How the Dark Gets In’, which has some of the strongest lyrics on the album.

There may not be a great deal of refinement or virtuoso ability in the musicianship, but that’s really not needed here. The guitars and drums seem to bludgeon you into submission on the heavier tracks such as ‘Liar Disciple’, although both bassist Paul Mcrobers and drummer Chris Armstrong both get the odd opportunity to stretch their legs a bit. The stand out track is clearly ‘The Day We Lost Everything’, which whilst being one of the slower tracks on here, and also featuring a very familiar guitar riff (Dead Skin Mask anyone?); but it’s also Clarke’s most convincing vocal performance where you actually sense a feeling of loss and regret. One of the big surprises was final track ‘The Final Transition’, which whilst interesting is not the band defining song it’s made out to be. This does seem to be the song that everyone talks about, but it’s no better than any of the other songs on here. It lacks drama and again, the vocal performance during the chorus lets them down.

On the whole, ‘The Cruelty of Great Expectations’ is a largely good if unexceptional album. All the songs are well written, just sometimes performed with such lacklustre that it detracts from the quality of the material. The other thing that occurred to me is that if Honey for Christ have waited 13 years to release a debut album, why have they only put 8 tracks on it? Come on guys, could you not have squeezed on a couple more? You must have the material after all this time! This is certainly worth checking out, but if you’re looking for the soundtrack to your suicide, I’d give it a miss. It’s a bit too upbeat and jaunty for that.

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