• Sammy O'Hagar


They don’t make bands like Burnt by the Sun anymore: dudes playing big metal riffs with genuine hardcore swagger while maintaining an air of authenticity and effortlessness. They never needed breakdowns (though they’ve had a few fucking righteous ones) or clean singing to get their point across: they simply stuck to what they did best, standing out even amongst the loftiest of peers, be it on their label (Relapse) or the countless tours and fests on which they played. Of course, while initial impressions hinted at a meat and potatoes-style excursion, they kept things interesting in the most subtle of manners: the riff was the main attraction, but ambiences and abstract asides provided sturdy support beams. Smarter than you think their aggressive, gruff, and unpretentious sound may have implied, Burnt by the Sun crafted some damn fine albums over the course of their career, and their decision to pack it in after a long hiatus is incredibly disappointing, especially considering the time in which they’re departing: a sea of kids combining hardcore and metal while managing to sterilize the soul out of both. But at the very least, their supposed final album – the mighty Heart of Darkness – is as good as anything they’ve ever done, if not significantly better. Whether a conscious decision to go out on top or an admitting that they have nowhere else to go after this, it’s a fine and fitting final album from the ridiculously powerful – and often criminally underrated – band.

Whereas Burnt by the Sun’s (also excellent) prior album, 2003’s The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good, had breathing room in ambient intro tracks, Heart of Darkness is a constant barrage of the band’s particular brand of discordant metallic hardcore, varied enough to keep it interesting from the first note to the last. “Inner Station” kicks things off intensely, with skittery, almost Dillinger Escape Plan-style guitar violence, before segueing nicely into an evocatively melodic guitar riff laid over a meaty hardcore groove that occasionally chops itself up into math rock bits. Mike Olender barks over everything in the same tone like always, taking a break only to talk ominously (and through a veil of post-production distortion) over certain riffs. As if you thought the end of the Bush era would throw the band for a loop, Olender’s assumedly sarcastic insistence of “There was never any situation/ and there is none now” continues the band’s dedication to hyper-awareness. The album continues in this fashion, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that: Burnt by the Sun have always been best when they’ve kept you wanting more, then delivering on that. But whereas before, the band would drop off the map to build tension, it’s there the whole time in the form of the tightest songwriting of the band’s career. Heart of Darkness is a collection of expertly crafted riffs, groovy-but-proficient rhythms that split the difference between simple and proggy, and an epic, important air about it that doesn’t take itself lightly or too seriously. If you’ve liked Burnt by the Sun before and claim not to like Heart of Darkness, you’re a fucking liar.

To those new to the band, why will you miss them when they’re not around anymore? Take the furious “There Will Be Blood”: built around an incredibly simple yet incredibly effective riff, the band sneers and shoves everything out of its way without much changing. However, in a move that echoes “Whole Lotta Love” more than decades of derivative, sub-par punk and hardcore, that riff NEVER gets old, and is kept appealing by the rhythm shifting beneath it, as well as Oleander screaming on top of it. So much about the band is simple, and yet their songs are clearly deliberately (and well) crafted; sometimes you have to add oregano to your meat and potatoes. The most remarkable thing about Heart of Darkness is how fresh it sounds, as if the band is still in its prime, jumping right back in the studio after the Perfect is the Enemy of the Good touring cycle: they still school most of their peers and label mates, even without 45 minutes of sweep picking and gravity blasts. Grind-influenced decimators like “The Great American Dream Machine” and all-over-the-place hardcore thrashers like “A Party to the Unsound Method” and “F-Unit” confidently stand shoulder to shoulder with classics like “Dracula with Glasses” and “Forlan.” On the one hand, it’s good they’re going out like this; on the other, we need them now more than ever. But like any great band, Burnt by the Sun are exiting better than they entered. Heart of Darkness is all the proof you need as to why they’ll be sorely missed.

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(4 out of 5 horns)


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