01. "The Mean Spirits, Breathing
02. "I, Saturnine
03. "Reach Beyond the Sun
04. "A Human Failing
05. "Man Into Demon: And Their Faces Are Twisted With the Pain of Living
06. "Medicine to the Dead
07. "To Suffer Fools
08. "Think the Adder Benign
09. "Monumental Graves
10. "If a Mountain Be My Obstacle
11. "At Least a Plausible Case for Pessimism
2013 Metal Blade Records
The phrase "You can't go home again" aptly summarizes the attempt of many bands to recapture long-lost glory days. Nowadays reunions of late-90s/early 00s hardcore bands have become increasingly common place, with each group trying to recreate the essence that made them memorable in the first place. All too often these efforts are in vain, with the genuine, unfettered artistic creation of youth replaced with a forced, last-ditch grab at some elusive brass ring. Strictly speaking, Shai Hulud has never broken up. In fact, founding guitarist Matt Fox and long-time bassist Matt Fletcher have put out consistently notable music, despite having to deal with a revolving door of temporary bandmates. Having said this, the group's newest release, Reach Beyond the Sun, very much seems like a reunion album, as former vocalist (and New Found Glory guitarist) Chad Gilbert returned to the fold after 15 years for the first time since 1998's The Fall of Every Man.
Fortunately, any doubts about whether Shai Hulud would be able to retain their passion and relevancy with Gilbert back at the helm are quelled as the opening track, "The Mean Spirits, Breathing" bursts with the same intensity that made this band so influential in the first place. While tracks like "I Saturnine" and "Reach Beyond the Sun" hint at the progressive metal elements that were prevalent on albums like Misanthropy Pure, this is far more of a hardcore album than anything the band has released in recent years. Tracks like "Man Into Demon: And Their Faces Are Twisted with the Pain of Living" and "Think the Adder Benign" expertly blend gang vocals and pounding rhythms that produce songs reminiscent of the band's earlier works while still remaining fresh and interesting. What is a stark improvement over the majority of the band's catalogue is the production value of this record. Adding to his singing duties, Chad Gilbert produced this album, and helped to capture the crushing intensity of this group that was often lost in the more rudimentary production of their earliest releases.
Another element of this band that has not been lost with the addition of Gilbert on vocals is the near-relentlessness of the pessimism and misanthropy in the lyrics. Tracks like "A Human Failing" and "To Suffer Fools" are soaked in such raw emotions, driven by Gilbert's unrefined and harsh vocal style, that it's sometimes difficult to remember how this band has functioned with so many other frontmen. These tracks are not only album highlights, but also demonstrate the band's ability to blend styles without becoming unfocused or unnecessarily complex.
Having said this, the unrelenting nature is one of the only bones of contention with this album. Although this can be chalked up to listener preference, the lack of dynamism or stylistic difference between many tracks causes them to blend and bleed into one another, giving the record unnecessarily monolithic feel at times. Fortunately, this is by no means a fatal flaw on Reach Beyond the Sun. Overall, the band's ability to blend churning guitars, relentless rhythms, and layered melodies, gives this album a dense feeling without completely losing itself to the over-indulgence or self-importance to which so many other emotional hardcore bands have fallen prey.
Bottom Line: Shai Hulud has delivered a consistently impressive album that puts them head and shoulders above many of their reformed compatriots. Reach Beyond the Sun will definitely please the band's diehard fans and will likely earn them many new admirers.