No one wants to make full-length records anymore. Whether it’s a marketing strategy catered to listeners with miniscule attention spans, or simply a lack of creative drive and content, the music world seems to be saturated with one-off SoundCloud singles and short-but-sweet EPs. Refreshingly, this isn’t how IEHAC resumes its journey. The instrumental-rock super-group goes one step further – not only setting sail for a monstrous voyage of 12 behemoth-sized tracks, but one that spans a fantastical concept that ties it all together. Yes, mateys of Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, this here be one treasure of a concept album.
A self-saluting continuation of their A Universe Made Of Strings debut in 2011 – which featured an artwork of a pirate ship – The Kraken flows in aptly, stirring riots amongst ripples with its monolithic arrival. We open with “The Deep”; awakening the crew from its slumber with slow, phasing guitars, twinkling synths and crash pats that trickle in, almost beckoning a sunrise emerging on the horizon. But going deeper into “Deep”, the distortion eventually crunches in, adding aggressive edges to the choppy chords that anticipate the maelstrom ahead.
It is in the second track, “Overture”, where IEHAC already begins to summon the storm. For seven minutes, IEHAC tests listeners’ endurance early with duels between rough riffs and clear hooks, with interventions from theatrical strings and face-melting guitar solos more staggering than Guitar Hero on God Mode. For a moment, IEHAC even makes you think you’re in safer waters by tossing in some jazz and Caribbean grooves during the outro of “Overture” (they’re just showing off now!). But the humorous chutzpah lasts for just a jiffy, before truly wrapping up “Overture” with a punk-fuelled finale adorned with chiming church bells.
With each key track being at least six minutes long, the methodology of IEHAC starts to follow a pattern; one that’s however, nearly impossible to predict. “Heracleion” for instance, fuses flangin’ psychedelia and dubstep-y wubs with metal-threshing breakdowns that devotees of Deep Purple and Slipknot would embrace. “Satori 101” – referred to the band as their most ‘hipster-ish’ track – plays on ’80s synths, funk-friendly basslines and even percussive, electronica-like handclaps that we presumed were fabricated with software (nope, those were apparently recorded live too). And “Seagull 1751” absolutely loses us with its nine-minute progression – from its affectionate intro of exotic bongos and euphonious guitar harmonies, to its alt-rocking, stadium-sized climax, and finally, Enya-esque cherub pads that herald a marching-beat send-off. That’s pretty much IEHAC’s game-plan on Kraken – to shock and awe without going cheesily overboard.
Perhaps it’s IEHAC’s dearth of vocals that makes them feel so unshackled and malleable; this clearly isn’t a band that gets thrills from orthodox verse-chorus-bridge structures. Conversation in instrumentation – that’s IEHAC’s weapon of choice when it comes to telling stories, even when it's as lofty as a four-part, 20-minute opus. As the album’s formidable crown jewel, the title track chronologically dictates a tale that leaves its interpretation up to imagination. The foreboding suspense on “Pt. 1: Manifest”; the warring tension on “Pt. 2: Melee”; the limbotic surrealism on “An Intermission” and the heroic resolution on “Pt. 3: Monument” – Jerry Bruckheimer, make a short film on this already!
Perceiving IHEAC literally is one way of listening to Kraken, if you find swashbucklers, kaiju and ancient Egyptian civilisations easy to fathom. While our personal hallucinations of otherworldly terrains and RPG quests run amok, it wouldn’t be fair of us to paint the picture for you. The Kraken should be your beast to best, and we dare say that you’ll discover something within the fantasy that we missed out on. As prophesised in its closing track, “Ouroboros” – an animalistic symbol of ‘eternal return’ – we’ll surely be revisiting The Kraken over and over again to unearth everything that IEHAC wishes to communicate on this extravagant sophomore album. We’re only scraping the surface; that much ain’t fiction.
The Kraken is out now, and can be streamed on In Each Hand A Cutlass' Bandcamp page.
Text Kevin Ho
Images In Each Hand A Cutlass FB Page, Aloysius Lim