Huntsmen’s strong combination of Americana, metal drives dark debut offering ‘American Scrap’

Being an American is a strange proposition right now. There are a lot of people walking around with major gaps in their memories, or they skipped their history classes altogether, and have no grasp on how this nation was formed. But it’s also not really a new problem. We’ve had our heads in the sand for a long time about many issues, and sadly, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to end.

That takes us right into “American Scrap,” the debut record from Chicago’s Huntsmen, and one of the more unique records you’re going to hear from this genre the entire year. I know that sounds funny saying this in February. But there aren’t many bands like this one, and it’s possible this is going to be a record some listeners could reject outright simply for the sound. That would be a mistake. What this band does is takes traditional Americana music and combines it with earth quaking doom metal about as seamlessly as one could hope. This might reek of gimmick (metal’s been known to have a few of those bands…) but it really is natural and organic in presentation. It’s also incredibly well played and sung, and it’s as moving emotionally as it is sonically destructive. Here, songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Chris Kang tackles the conflicting idea of America being the land of opportunity for all, built on the backs of immigrants, as it long has been celebrated, and the current state of nationalism that is making those from other nations feel unwelcome and unsafe. Kang, along with bandmates Kirill Orlov (guitars), Marc Stranger-Najjar (bass), and Ray Knipe (drums) created a conceptual piece that examines the confusion and hurt so many feel here, along with the potential world-toppling outcomes that could follow if we continue down this path.

“Bury Me Deep” is a quick opening track, as deep acoustic strumming and harmonized singing introduces the story and bleeds into “Pyre,” where the song begins rustically before the pace picks up. The singing is strong, as it is throughout the record, as Kang declares, “Tell your god he don’t get my soul yet,” and then the whole thing is blown apart. Shrieks mix in with spirited yelled singing, while a Southern rock-style swagger emerges, smoke rises, and the track ends with vicious shouts and a devastating pace. “Canary King” begins with soulful singing only, as Kang calls, “Give me dust, give me death.” The track then gets grittier, as a burly path is pounded out, and a classic rock groove emerges. Growls land shots, as the tempo pounds away, and the opening lines of the song return, this time with the vocals devastating and bruising. Warm soloing washes over the back end, giving the song a psychedelic shine on its way out. “Interlude Part 1 – Shipwrecked” has sea birds cawing, a cosmic rush, and a droning pattern shoving ahead and into the second half.

“Atlantic City” has gazey chaos emerging at the start, as quiet, solemn singing reminisces about romance at the beach before everything went wrong. “Watch where you’re walking, there’s blood in the sand,” Kang warns, as the track kicks into a proggier gear, the soloing bursts and sprawls, and the track comes to a churning end. “Interlude B – Insurrection” is quite short, with drums rumbling and guitars moaning, and then we’re into “The Barrens,” where guitars rings and riffs scrape. Howled vocals are followed by barked words, and following that is a dose of calm, harmonized singing before the tempo crunches again. The playing over the final minutes is outright burly, as the track heads into a cloud of feedback. “The Last President” caps off the story, with guest singer Aimee Bueno taking the role of the title character, telling of giving her final televised address before euthanizing her family and hanging herself prior to Armageddon arriving. Fuzzy doom carries the thread from there, with the guitar work burning and stoking raging smoke bursts, the playing gushing with emotion, and the tale bleeding away.

Being a fan of Americana music, folk, and, of course, metal, Huntsmen’s concept intrigued me from the outset, but the music contained within “American Scrap” really brought everything home for me as a listener. The lyrical content is heavy and sad, and while you don’t necessarily have to pay attention to the concept to enjoy the record, it really helps add depth to the music. This is a band that’s onto something special, and this record could be the first step in one of metal’s most intriguing stories the next few years.

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