REVIEW: HUNG’S PROGENY IS SOME OF THE BEST METAL NEW YORK HAS TO OFFER
Progeny, the first proper release from New York City’s Hung, is one of the more musically complex CDs I’ve heard in some time. This is always surprising coming from a local band but shouldn’t be seeing as that band is Hung, a band we’ve followed and written about on MetalSucks from time to time. Following in the tradition of European influenced prog-metal, Hung’s take is both fresh and well-done. With a non-traditional, almost classical approach to song structure and arrangement, Hung — though they still have some growing to do — are one of the most interesting and promising bands in the New York City metal scene.
There are many things about Hung that make them stand out from the pack, among them their unorthodox instrumentation. Hung are a 5-piece, but in place of a second guitarist is violinist Lyris Hung, the group’s namesake and spiritual leader. The sound of the violin gives the band a neo-classical feel and fills two roles, alternating between leads that might otherwise be played by a guitar and atmospheric embellishment that most European bands resort to faking with synth keyboards.
Lyris is an incredibly gifted player, trading off licks and playing twin-leads with guitarist “Evil” Jon. Sam Roon’s bass lines are unbelievably complex, weaving in, out and around the guitar, violin and vocal melodies while somehow managing to stay locked into the pocket of Alex Cohen’s drums. The players interact with each other in such a way — and perhaps this has to do with the fact that there’s a violinist in the band — that feels more like an orchestration than a traditional rock sound. The band rarely falls into the kind of chugg-chugga that’s become so passe, but even when they do venture down paths more well-traveled they mix it up with off-kilter time-signatures and rhythms, as in the verses of the album-opening title track.
While the members of Hung are certainly all excellent players, where the band really excels is its songwriting. These songs all really feel like full orchestrations — compositions if you will — that are intricately crafted from one note to the next with the most deliberate care. This to me is one of the most endearing qualities of Hung. If there’s one band I would point to as a reference it would be Opeth, but this isn’t to say the band is ripping off Opeth in any way. Hung utilizes Opeth’s sense of melody and composition, injecting just the right amount of Brooklyn to counterbalance Opeth’s Sweden. The band’s song structures are often reminiscent of Opeth too, forgoing anything even close to verse/chorus/verse in favor of a much more intellectual, meandering story-telling-with-notes approach that takes each song through multiple feelings, moods and soundscapes. The band’s melodies are catchy but never cheesy, hitting that oh-so-hard-to-find sweet spot that pleases both your desires for something familiar and something new, as well as hitting on both brutally heavy and slow, melancholic moments alike.
The band recorded Progeny at the infamous Trax East Studios in New Jersey with Eric Rachel (God Forbid, A Life Once Lost, Symphony X, The Red Chord), and produced the effort themselves while reaping the benefits of Rachel’s excellent sonic ear for the mix. But while the orchestrations and sonic landscapes are Hung’s greatest strength, on occasion they are their biggest downfall, getting a little too involved and chaotic. Not that chaos in metal is a bad thing — but sometimes the compositions get a bit muddled, whatwith the violin, guitar, bass and drums basically all playing “lead” at the same time and fighting for the listener’s attention. But for a self-produced, debut recording, Hung can hardly be blamed — they’re still growing. A little direction in the way of an actual producer pulling the reigns back ever-so-slightly to keep things from getting a little too indulgent at times might have been beneficial — but who at this level can afford a real producer?
I’m also not clear how the four instrument-playing band members view the role of vocalist Dmitry Kostitsyn. He’s certainly both an able screamer and singer, but his vocals are often a tad low in the mix. Kostitsyn emits growls both menacingly high and bowel-shakingly low, as well as hauntingly clean vocals as on “Sediment of War.” But this just highlights the fact that Kostitsyn’s voice serves more as a fifth instrument than it does the traditional role of a singer. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest as I rarely listen to death metal lyrics anyway, but would certainly bother some potential listeners. If anything, his voice adds to the overall orchestral feel of Progeny, which is a weird thing to say about grating growls in music that oftentimes is classical in feel — but fuck, I like it!
Hung is also a band that you really must see live to get the full experience — their live show is incredibly tight, adding to the power of the music. Progeny is an excellent debut, and though there is some room for improvement in this early stage in the band’s career Hung is undoubtedly one of the best and strongest bands in the New York City scene today. Progeny is really, really good; if you’re a fan of European-influenced metal you’ll be drawn in right away. Get yourself a copy.
(four out of five horns)