5 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head
Produced by: Matt Bayles, Harkonen
Harkonen’s Shake Harder Boy defined what I wanted from metal / hardcore / Hydra Head Records – pummeling heft that allowed for experimental touches without sacrificing musicality. There are plenty of albums that’ve splintered off of that style, before and after this release – stuff from Botch, Pelican – which have their own evolutions, but the blending of Matt Bayles’ crisp production to the absolute intensity of Ben Verellen’s vocals and the group’s sharpening of their punkier approach into slabs of pummeling riffage and wall-of-noise shoegaze… it was perfect. Too perfect to maintain, really, as the group got a bit looser on followup Dancing, and then sputtered through some small releases thereafter before / while Roy and Helms Alee would pick up the various threads as needed.
Bayles’ style of filtering out the edges of metal – sharpening and blunting at the same time – doesn’t always work for me, but it’s what Harkonen needed to make their sound as loud and yet listenable as possible, promoting a kind of Kurt Ballou rawness of instruments while leveling it with Verellen’s howl, making the record sit in an interesting range between hardcore and something slightly sludgier, or post-rockier – indie rock of a classic Trance Syndicate / Touch and Go style that’s been beaten up during the subsequent decade, and wandered onto Hydra Head’s release schedule.
Lyrically, while the song titles are of-the-era snark (Baristas Get Stalked; All This Time I Thought Your Name Was Cool Dude), the actual content carries weight, and emotion, further justifying Ben’s delivery. And the group leans into the abilities of their producer, and their place in the expanding hardcore landscape, taking key pauses on the album to insert ambient stretches, or long build-ups to explosions of noise. The sequencing is key to effecting this: Shake Harder Boy barrels out with its loudest and quickest tracks, earning its heavy duty bona fides, then starts working in pauses, and slower, more seething tracks, juggling all of this as precision ebb and flow up through emotive and killer closer, Settle Here.
The album was / is a statement, but in this sort of for-all-time fashion where it maintains impact regardless of when you approach it, or from what angle. Harkonen never seemed to grab the limelight the way some other name metal acts of the era did, and perhaps that’s because they lacked some hook of being the most technical or poetic or heaviest band. But they did find a very unique and timeless sound on Shake Harder (and on the Grizz EP before this, just in less quantity), and every time I circle back around to the release, I’m blown away by how thorough it is, and balanced, and both ear-bleedy yet relistenable.