Since 1995, Shai Hulud has been one of the leading lights of metalcore. I’m not talking about metalcore as in: “Hey! Let’s rip off Slaughter of the Soul and throw in some breakdowns!” I’m talking metalcore as in the metallic hardcore that evolved out of crossover; a true fusion of the heartfelt aggression of hardcore and the compositional complexity of heavy metal (ok, I know that description sounds like it came straight from a PR e-mail blast, but it’s the fucking truth).
Their output has been sporadic; Shai Hulud have only released four albums in eighteen years of existence, but they’ve nonetheless become one of the most influential bands in the genre, thanks to their penchant for intricate melodies and progressive songwriting. With Reach Beyond the Sun, their most recent full length and second for Metal Blade, the New York-by-way-of-Florida quartet is back to remind us why they still sit high atop the metalcore heap.
Simply put, Reach Beyond the Sun might just be the ultimate metallic hardcore record. It’s literally all here; the multi-layered, uplifting guitar melodies, the shout-along gang vocals, the earnestness… everything that made the genre great prior to it being co-opted by Gothenburg babies has been perfected here by Shai Hulud guitarist/mastermind Matt Fox and his longtime cohort, bassist Matt Fletcher. While previous album Misanthropy Pure was a serviceable if somewhat lackluster effort, Reach Beyond the Sun sees the band firing on all cylinders, whipping up some the of the most beautifully heavy music they’ve ever put to tape.
That juxtaposition of prettiness and devastation is what makes Shai Hulud such a special band; It’s a neat trick they pull, making you want to bang your head and listen intently at the same time, trying to absorb every little detail of all that glorious riffage. Fox’s six-string work is goddamn electric; fractured pulchritude awash in distortion arises from the ashes of pent-up anger and frustration. The rest of the band are far from slouches, but make no mistake; Shai Hulud is first and foremost a guitar band, and Fox is probably one of the most underrated players in both metal and hardcore. His unique approach to the instrument is most certainly the heart and soul of the group.
Fortunately, Reach Beyond the Sun features a production scheme that allows you to hear all of those sonic details exactly as they were intended. Let’s face it, as good as they are, prior Shai Hulud albums weren’t always great sounding albums, but at last Fox’s compositions have been given the recording quality they deserve thanks to Chad Gilbert, who also returns as lead vocalist for Reach Beyond the Sun (Gilbert also screamed his guts out on Hearts Once Nourished With Hope and Compassion and A Profound Hatred of Man). The clear-as-a-bell production makes Shai Hulud sound as enormous as I’ve always imagined them to sound, allowing the emotionally charged songs to burn brighter than the titular sun.
Metalcore may no longer be fashionable, but great music is timeless, and Shai Hulud have always made great music regardless of whatever neat, tidy little genre box people have tried to cram them into. Reach Beyond the Sun is the album where at long last it has all come together for the band; perfect production, excellently executed songs and passionate performances work in tandem to create something heavy, memorable and ultimately uplifting and empowering. Plain and simple, this is front-to-back the best thing Shai Hulud has ever done. Get into it.