So Hideous - Last Poem / First Light | Review

It’s never all that fun to hate on a record, particularly by a small band willing to try new things. But here I sit with Last Poem / First Light, the newest from So Hideous, and I can’t find many positive things to say. Parts black metal, screamo, and modern classical, it never particularly congeals into a whole anything, except for a post-rock record that would have felt outdated 10 years ago slathered with nasal-y screams and fractured song arrangements.

Let’s start off with the compliments. So Hideous clearly knows what it’s doing when arranging strings, and the most overtly classical elements are the record’s best, providing respite and beauty, and sometimes even unease, as on opener “Rising.” In these moments, the band demonstrates an ear for nuance that is nowhere else repeated, or is only done with an obvious “HEY ISN’T THIS BEAUTIFUL” that the effect is ruined.

Ruined being the perfect word to describe the record’s brief high points. “Stabat Mater,” presumably named for the Arvo Pärt piece, opens with strings and returns to their theme on piano, but sandwiches a supremely cliché black metal passage in between. This, for the most part, is So Hideous’s compositional game: alternating between melody and dissonance, often jarringly and with no clear goal. “Last Poem” provides another example of this, tacking a coda about a fifth the song’s length onto its end. The string passages themselves are well-arranged and performed, all credit to guitarist and composer Brandon Cruz. But the parts sound nothing like one another, and when placed together, as on “My Light,” we have the sound of a black metal band playing overtop a classical composition in the same key, but neither is particularly improved by the other.

And both are done a disservice by the vocals, undoubtedly the worst part of it all. Christopher Cruz injects a nasal whine into his screams that curdles them in a way that unfortunately reminds me of too many basement-fried screamo bands that never made it past a demo in the mid-2000s. So Hideous is clearly going for something grandiose, and his vocals are amateurish in a way that strongly hurts the music. What Last Poem demands is a strong performance with deft range and confidence, and Cruz provides none of that, instead substituting angst for strength.

Then again, even if his vocals were up to snuff, the listener would still be left with warmed-over ideas from Envy, Deafheaven and Explosions in the Sky. For how much effort was clearly put into composing and arranging this record, it deserves to be better. That So Hideous has grand ideas is a start, but its reach exceeds its grasp by an almost incalculable sum. Thankfully, a start is more than most bands even bother with; So Hideous could make music deserving of their ambition yet.

Rob Rubsam

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Rob Rubsam is a freelance writer and itinerant resident of Upstate New York. His writing about music has been published at CVLT Nation, Tom Tom Magazine, The Rumpus, Burning Ambulance, and others. When not contemplating giant squids or erecting a standing stone in his backyard, he tweets at @millenialistfun. Do not contact him with your black mass-related inquiries, please.