Honey For Christ have been a sterling example of the never-say-die attitude to underground metal. Their evolution has been interesting to witness, since over adecade ago when the ‘Long Way Down And Rising’ demo was released. Back then as a 4-piece they had the songs, and a certain amount of mystique behind them, but once vocalist Jason departed, it was unclear how the band would change to overcome that most awkward obstacle.
Surprisingly, guitarist Andy Clarke took the frontman spot and their next gigs were in front of a genuinely enthralled crowd – HFC were evidently a lot less doomy, and a hell of a lot more metal. This set them on the path of a harder, more aggressive style that has seen them rise among the very top of Northern Ireland’s metal bands, both in the live setting and in the releases stakes, as was seen with the sterling job done on the recent ‘All Hope Was Strangled’ 7”.
So, naïve and awkward debut album territory with the new release ‘The Cruelty Of Great Expectations’? Far, far from it. What we have here is a carefully crafted album with subtle nuances that elevate it easily onto the To Purchase list. The opening crush (no hyperbole – listen to that outrageously heavy bass and drum sound) of ‘All Hope Was Strangled’ sets a surprisingly heavy tone for the album. Immediately apparent is a stronger, melodic and more experienced singing voice from Andy, and a toning down of the Belfast accent, which gives it a more wide reaching feel.
Live favourite and personal album highlight ‘Another Way Down’ contrasts the heavy beating of the previous track with a soulful, beautiful number sung to perfection. It’s the best track that Therapy? never wrote, and is a song I can easily imagine getting airtime on metal TV channels; it’s extremely radio friendly.
A big plus point about the album’s production has to be mentioned here, most noticeably in ‘How The Dark Gets In’. The whole endeavour is made much more palatable by the fact that when each chorus is sung, they are slightly different from each other, despite being the same section lyrically and musically – meaning no cut n’ paste digital short cuts; the lads did it the honest, harder way and recorded them separately. Such a move has been representative of their career to date, after all, the band waited a full 13 years, honing their live show and tightening up their recorded output until they put out a debut album of professional quality.
The use of overdubs in the vocals is the most subtle thing on the album, and adds a fantastic depth to the songs. They’re used sparingly, and are mostly confined to ‘Another Way Down’, but give the more intense lyrics a lot more power, and complement the build up to the massive metal section of that song in particular. The doom elements of old haven’t been entirely forgotten either – ‘Blame Corrupts’ sounds for all the world like ‘The Sleeping Tyrant’ by Solstice.
Snarling, shouting, yet reflective and sorrowful, (especially in ‘How The Dark Gets In’) it’s to HFC’s credit that this all works so damn well together. Length wise it’s perfect for either a quick blast before heading out, or an involved listen in the evening, and at the risk of alerting the double entendre police, it’s short enough to please, but long enough to satisfy.
Unfortunately, there’s no ‘Orion Dust’, but you can’t have everything, and those who bought the last 7” will have it as a b-side. Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be a logical place in the album where the track would have worked, so the 7” release was the best place for it. Those who haven’t got that, and like what they hear from the album would be advised to seek it out.
Happily though, ‘The Final Transition’ is included as the album closer; it being their most rocking song live, and a great way to leave the listener on a high. All in all, the guys have done themselves proud. ‘The Cruelty Of Great Expectations’ has certainly exceeded the high expectations I had for the album, and I can’t wait to see them live again.
4.2 / 5 - Dónal McBrien ::: 12/05/11
13 May 2011