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Harrow’s “Fragments of a Fallen Star” Is a Pulsating Collision of Cosmic Debris

Fragments of a Fallen Star was originally independently released digitally in 2013, followed a couple of months later by a cassette edition through Shadow of the Stone. Last year, however, Canada’s Hypnotic Dirge Records were kind enough to finally reissue this sophomore effort as a digipak. Thematically, Fragments of a Fallen Star is extraordinarily cohesive, from an album cover featuring a cosmic goddess of sorts with the universe in the background (an image not dissimilar in spirit to the 2013 Stella Natura logo) to the overall feel of the music, which begins and ends with the sound of a fire’s crackle, representing these fragments themselves returning back to the universe. It ultimately speaks to a more primitive consciousness wherein humanity was content to simply reflect on the great unfathomable vastness of the night sky while warming themselves by a fire. There was an awareness present in those days, of being on this floating rock that is truly experiential and therefore ineffable.

Mixing the raw bestial black metal of country mates Conqueror and the Northwest acoustic blackened folk of Skagos, Harrow creates a unique vision that has large cross appeal within the genre. This unique combination gives Harrow the ability to walk their own path while obviously being influenced by certain genres, and in particular their local peers. Being both the title track and the first song, “Fragments of a Fallen Star” is almost half of this four-track album on its own, and because of this it almost feels more like an EP. It certainly is the album’s showcase track and the one song that I think displays the band’s full range of abilities. Beginning with some entrancing noises, in time an acoustic passage with clean vocals seeps in, the kind of folksy ballad that is easy to hum along with. In time, it builds and builds into a swirling riff and erupts in a violent maelstrom complete with some seriously tough vocals that completely balance the softer section from earlier. A guitar solo reveals the traditional side of the band before a climatic false finish that leads to some primal screams and a drum piece that hints at Neurosis. I kept wanting the song to go somewhere else, but after repeated listens, as an ending it is quite strong and really shows the elemental aspects of the band.

Harrow

“Keening” takes its time getting started, and when it does, the initial riff isn’t bad but the guitar has this strange sound that doesn’t quite sit well with me. There is a very repetitive lyric that is actually borrowed from a couple different local Northwest musicians/artists, one being Schroder’s—a performance artist, writer, and activist—slogan “do not seek the light.”  This initially threw me off guard, although it’s pretty cool to hear a lyric and know where it comes from, but it is not a strong enough line to carry a large part of the song. Alongside the guitar tone, the only thing I can really say this song has going for it is a decent riff, but it really never goes anywhere.

“Song of Seasons” makes up for this with an old-school approach that is very satisfying to the ears. The opening riff hits my sweet spot, and when it speeds up this is as fine a black metal song as anything I have heard. The drum work and all other aspects are solid, and I love the discernible yet still absolutely grim vocals. At one point there is a well-placed grunt that completely sold me as only the best can do, before a section where it is largely just the vocals erupting into a declaration of intent. I would honestly like to hear an album’s worth of material just like this, as it is solid and condensed, confident in its ability to be a song that sticks out for how good it sounds, not for reinventing the wheel. The acoustic section at the end fits well as the album closer, which is at first almost a complete 180 that includes a banjo performance. It really gives a sense to the idea of closure for the journey, although I don’t think the album is long enough to really warrant this.

Harrow has a lot of interesting things going on; their drummer at that time, Kyle Brickell, is one of the most creative I have ever heard, and the spectrum of various guitar effects that Ian Campbell utilizes throughout are often dynamic and exploratory. Even for an album that doesn’t come off as an album proper, Fragments of a Fallen Star can feel a bit drawn-out at points, but I also recognize that Harrow could easily write an album that showcases the talents of this band and puts them in the spotlight for years to come.


Track List:

01) Fragments of a Fallen Star
02) Keening
03) Sons of Seasons
04) If the Sky Falls, We Shall Catch Larks

Written by: Patrick Bertlein
Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records (Canada) / HDR048 / CD
Cascadian Black Metal

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