Harpoon take impressive leap forward on ‘Deception Among Birds’

Improvement is something that probably should be expected from a band moving from first to second album. The band most likely has done a ton of touring, got a better idea of how the group works, and has a stronger grasp of its sound and what direction is right for them. So when the sophomore album drops, one should expect a sharper, more effective band.

Yet, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes that first record is all a band really has in its arsenal, and it’s all downhill from there. That’s why it’s nice when a group such as Harpoon returns with a new record that not only indicates a group of musicians who have matured and improved but also completely blows away their first piece of work. They’ve done just that on “Deception Among Birds,” set for release on Seventh Rule, and this new platter should open up a whole lot of eyes and ears.

The band’s first effort “Double Gnarly/Triple Suicide” wasn’t a bad record by any means. The record title is pretty bad, but the music is convulsive and violent.  But it didn’t really stand out much from the rest of the grindy, power-mad crowd. There seemed to be ideas floating around in the mire, but they didn’t take time to, or perhaps they didn’t care to, flesh out their creations. So what we were left with was a 23-minute assault that, while fun enough, didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. That is not the case with “Deception Among Birds,” a noisier, nastier album that’s about twice as long as their debut and stays with you much longer once you’re done listening. It’s an impressive sophomore strike.

There are eight tracks on this flaming beast of a record, and the band branches out some of their ideas, going beyond simply playing fast and aggressive songs. Not that these are cupcakes, because they are not. But there’s a flush of newfound melody, some stabs into post-rock and black metal, and a greater sense of atmosphere that, in turn, gives the listener more room to move and explore. It just sounds great from front to back, and the guitar playing from Dean Costello is practically worth the price of admission alone. He also handles the drum programming that sounds a hell of a lot better than it did on their debut, when it was really obvious a human wasn’t behind the kit. Toney Vast-Binders remain savage and throat exploding, but his cleaner work gets time here and works to the music’s advantage. Bassist D.J. Barraca rollicks and rumbles freely, adding a nice deep texture beneath all of this storming.

The record opens with a hardcore-minded explosion called “To the Tall Trees” that also calls to mind doom and mud, and that leads to “Prequel to a Lifetime of Disappointment,” that has some of the aforementioned post-rock stylings but also remembers to kick your ass. Both “Dreadnought” and “Phlegm” have deep markings of black metal guitar openness, the former eventually embracing more melody and some of Vast-Binder’s most impressive vocal work, the latter taking on dizzying, hypnotic tones that eventually thrash you into a punk rock frenzy. “Troglodite’s Delight” has an old Mastodon feel to it, and considering the Atlanta band is busy exploring outer space stoner rock, perhaps Harpoon can take their old throne. The closing title cut has some of the most ambitious and exploratory work on the entire disc, but they also settle into a frosty metallic storm that reminds you not to get comfortable. “The Cut of His Jib” and “Shit Wizard” are as close to what the band pumped out on their debut, only they’re richer, more memorable cuts.

Each time I listen to “Deception Among Birds,” I can’t believe this is the same Harpoon that didn’t leave an indelible impression on me with their debut. In fact, I never really considered this band would become a major player and a huge force in my regular music rotation, but this record really floored me. It’s another album that keeps impinging on my review schedule because I want to keep listening to this instead of other things that eventually I need to review. But that’s a good thing. I am wholly impressed by how good this band got in such a short time, and I’m excited to hear where this Chicago trio goes next. I know that next time around, a new record from Harpoon will be on my most-anticipated list.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/harpoonchicago

To buy “Deception Among Birds,” go here: http://www.seventhrule.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.seventhrule.com/