Album: Closer to Hell – EP
A specter looms over your shoulder at every hour of every day—and at this point it’s nothing new. It follows you wherever you roam, invading your head while you sleep and robbing you of rest. It sits in the pit of your stomach, stealing every ounce of sustenance you attempt to afford yourself—no matter how much you eat, you never feel full. Your ribs begin to show, day by day—and the bags under your eyes grow darker and more pronounced. Your parents stage an intervention—fearing depression, or perhaps worse, addiction—and your friends start to keep their distance. You are becoming a ghoul. A walking shadow.
Hour after hour, you find yourself growing Closer to Hell.
Northwestern metalcore act Haunter capture this frantic dissolution into depression and deprivation on their breakout EP, Closer to Hell—as aptly named as the ghoulish, grim band themselves. Combining low, lurid grooves with quick percussion and crunchy brutality, Haunter touch on everything from scathing nu metal to devastating downtempo deathcore—leaving no stone unturned in their quest to create a crushing record that condemns the listener to a fate six feet closer to Hell.
Haunter unleash Hell on the listener from the first foreboding seconds of “Abysmal,” with an eerie electronic tone that grows louder and faster until—akin to a time bomb—it explodes into an eviscerating groove led by percussionist Cassidy Rader. Rader is ruthless behind his kit, combining creativity, technicality and fluidity with practiced expertise. “Abysmal” is host to a cornucopia of technically savvy fills and fantastic transitions that prove this readily—just as the opening groove of “Chamberlain” urges listeners to toss their dancing shoes on and two-step until they collapse. Rader’s intense footwork continues to carry the band throughout the entirety of Closer to Hell, with “Chamberlain” and “Visceral” seeing his pedalwork at its most punishing—allowing him to work brilliantly with resident riffsmith Nick Ruff, who steeps the listener in sinister breakdowns and grooves just as readily as he ravages them with rampaging riffs and creates rare-but-intriguing moments of ambience (the closing segment of “Chamberlain” is excellent evidence of the latter). Ruff and Rader work together as a dynamic duo, bouncing hither and to on “Hellion” and “Chamberlain,” yet laying into the listener with pure, flesh-shredding intensity on “Visceral” and “Fiend” both—with “Abysmal” kicking things off as a figurative sampler platter of the group’s strengths.
Where the instrumentation provided by Rader and Ruff is excellent at creating a soundscape, it’s up to frontman Dean Wattenburger to snake his way into the listener’s skull and poison their brain—which is just what he does. “Fiend” is the best example of this on the entire album—as Wattenburger’s lyrics are as sinister and insidious as cyanide, allowing every syllable he spits to erode skin and rot organs with abandon for kindness. Wattenburger isn’t just a one hit wonder on “Fiend,” however: “Chamberlain” sees him at the peak of his variety, where “Visceral” highlights his low, brutalizing growls and creative abilities, keeping up with Ruff and Rader’s most off-the-wall patterns with ease. Even the lyricism on “Visceral” feels toxic, inciting cannibalism and cruelty with a harshly repeated and dark, low tone that captures both desperation and despair brilliantly. Fair enough that Wattenburger might not be the next Dickie Allen or Ben Duerr—but he is talented and intense, fitting every need put forth by Haunter’s collective songwriting.
Closer to Hell is a crushing and fun listen—but it finds a critical pitfall in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily do anything truly new. Loosely conceptual and lurid for its entirety, the effort by this terrifying trio is certainly there, but it simply doesn’t stray far outside of “the box” defined by a bulk of their contemporaries. However, when it comes to a heavy, hellish—albeit standard—amalgamation of nu-metalcore and downtempo deathcore, Haunter can certainly hang with the best of them. Establishing themselves in the same fashion as Extortionist did with The Black Sheep all those years ago, Haunter might not hit the big time with Closer to Hell, but they do find themselves several steps closer than many of their peers.
For Fans Of: Extortionist, Distinguisher, Sworn In, Filth
By: Connor Welsh