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Halo Tora – Man of Stone, First Chapter


Halo Tora – Man of Stone, First Chapter

I can recall about six years ago moaning about the lack of development and risk taking within the world of progressive rock\metal. Often derided as a bunch of Peart worshipping anorak’s by the ‘mainstream’ I was concerned that we were becoming a fan base stuck somewhere between Gabriel and the last Rush album that Geddy stopped using too many synths. Fish announcing the end of the recital of the Script almost pushed me over the edge.

We’ve been lucky since the whinging as some new great bands have taken up the mantle, such as Voyager and Caligula’s Horse, while some existing bands refined their groove, such as The Butterfly Effect and Tesseract. Seeing Leprous, Coheed, Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus and a smattering of other bands in the last few months tell me that we are in good hands. But, I’m sitting here listening to the Tesseract album due to be released in a few weeks and thinking that they are beginning to sound more and more like Halo Tora.

The first time I heard Glasgow band Halo Tora was on the album Omni\One released in 2015. That album became the one stuck in the car stereo, taking up permanent residence, replacing the well -worn Real to Reel. I had been sent the album by a fellow reviewer with a ‘prog stuff’ comment. On this album, a debut nonetheless, there was a maturity and a depth that I had been bellowing for the industry to produce all those years ago. The tracks Needle, Tonight and Under the Surface were crazily masterful for a first release.

Back to today and we get the launch of Halo Tora’s next album called Man of Stone, First Chapter. The whispy album art in the first album has given way to a ponderous dude sitting astride and orb, within an orb, within a galaxy. It’s a short album at about 27 minutes, or about 1.3 of a 2112 in prog measurement. The good news is that this album is nothing short of miraculous with every one of those minutes delivering a performance worthy of your attention. It has a tone unique to this band which is comfortable and warm but heart wrenching at the same time. It can be foreboding and tender in the same phrase, a rarity in my recollection of listening to countless releases. There is an ambience on this album that pulls you close. There is a warmth and an atmosphere with a sinister undertone. You can tell that this release has been sweated over and polished within an inch of its life as every movement is measured and calculated.

Man of Stone, First Chapter is a concept album with a personal story to be told over two parts, with six tracks in total on this release. Earth Exit Bloom is the kick-off track and it’s a killer start and reminds me of a cross between Leprous and the Caligula Horse classic album Bloom. If the debut album was a knock out then this start takes it to a new level. There is a bass line about three minutes into this track which moved things about the desk I’m working at. I’ve put headphones on instead and the sound has gone up a notch. The quality of this recording is immense. You can hear every word, ever phrase and no instrument drowns out any other. ‘Waste of time’ is the lyric that comes out of this track time and time again, but this is anything but. We djent our way out and into the second track and it’s Always the Last to Know.

This is an intricate track with a super-clear vocal. It’s heart-wrenching but somehow delicate and voluminous at the same time. I’ve heard more prog that I can recall, or should I be cool and call this alternative rock, but this is something new. This is fresh and honest. The playing is sublime and the construction of this track screams quality. The next track, Fractured, should be giving you an insight into how personal that this album is. This is a simple track with few instruments, with strings in the background and a trembling, gut-wrenching vocal out the front, exposed. It is shattering. Once you listen to this track put it on again as it gets better. Once you’ve done that you should try it again. This is a stellar track that totally disarms you with its honesty.

Unthank picks up where Fractured leaves off until about two minutes in and we are lifted out of our malaise with a searing melody that guides and shapes this song. Melody is probably the thing that sets Halo Tora apart. Other bands attempt to lift the intensity by upping the aggression. Halo Tora raise the stakes, bring down the clouds or let a glimmer of sun shine through by stacking melody upon melody, layer upon layer. By the end of this track we are approaching symphonic levels. It’s another breathtaking track, but should I really expect anything less from this band?

Heart of Stone starts off with a melody picked on the guitar that seems to be a reprise from Always the Last to Know, but maybe a bit more upbeat from where we were 15 minutes ago. The album closes out with the title track and the first time I heard it I wasn’t sure as there is a vocal that is sort of spoken word, sort of rap. Yep, I’m the guy that tells alt-prog bands to take a punt and go for it, then I hear something that is clearly a punt, something different, and I’m reaching for the handbrake. It took me a good few listens to get my brain around this one. The music is superb, its monotonous, like a ticking clock, counting out lost opportunity that is spelled out in the lyric. After the better part of twenty listens, I love everything about this. Every anxious, self-doubting moment.

This is an immense album that is only matched by the bare faced cheek of a band trying something of this depth on their second release. Halo Tora not only pull this off but raise expectations of Chapter Two and where this band can go next. I can’t find fault and I don’t think you will either as long as you are willing to truly listen to this recording.

I normally use the guide of telling you to dip the digital needle on a particular track to get a quick fix of what the band and the album is about. However, I’m breaking with well-worn tradition and telling you that having a quick glimpse isn’t doing this album, this concept, or this band any justice. Buy it and challenge yourself.

Review: Craig Grant