Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Prior to receiving the promo for Olm, Hadal Maw’s second full length, I had a very conflicted and confused relationship with the Melbourne-based band. Based on previous experiences seeing them play live, I’d had positive feelings towards their brand of technical death metal, but the last time I saw them play (sometime late last year), I didn’t care for what they had to offer in the slightest. The set was so different to what I was expecting that I questioned whether I’d actually managed to get them mixed up with another band entirely.
Well, it turns out that my confusion is entirely justified because Olm indeed marks a departure from the band’s original blustery technical death metal sound, supplanting it with a far more groove-oriented and atmospheric one that brings to mind an amalgamation of Nothing-era Meshuggah and something in a similar but not quite the same vein as a slightly more dissonant Gojira.
Olm is at its strongest when the lead guitars are allowed to break free and shine in their own right which, thankfully, is much more common than not. There are numerous passages throughout the album’s 45-odd minutes that display a really keen ear for melody that, while often technical, aren’t overbearingly so. In this respect, the band still holds onto their roots as a technical death metal band, but their implementation here is marked by a welcome restraint that staves off the eye rolls that usually set in very quickly for me when technicality is allowed to trump musicality.
Equally enjoyable is the sombreness in the tonality of the recording. Despite how animated the material often is, there’s also a cold, almost mechanical feel that adds an additional layer of personality to an already rather dense recording. Unfortunately, though, the austerity of the production’s tone also leads to the album sounding a little too impersonal and inorganic; the kind of sound that holds you just at arm’s length. I think the album would’ve benefited from a little more warmth to really push it over the edge in this respect, but it isn’t a deal breaker.
Where Olm is at its weakest is in its dependence on a very small pool of actual ideas. So much of the material is underpinned by the aforementioned Meshuggah cum Gojira chugging, and while the extra range afforded by the 8-string guitars is nice, the truth is that the lack of real compositional variety becomes apparent very early on. Taken individually, none of the song-writing is really lacking - especially when the chugging groove is enhanced by one of those often great lead lines like the one in “Witch Doctor” - but when ten songs (well, nine without the introduction) all follow a very similar compositional basis and also have very similar tempos, it’s practically inevitable that it’s going to be a very hard task to keep a hold of people’s attention, and it was a trap that Olm wasn’t able to satisfactorily circumvent in my case.
While I definitely had my issues with Olm, there was actually quite a lot that I enjoyed about it as well. Hadal Maw seem to be a band that’s in the process of undergoing a musical transformation, and while Olm didn’t manage to nail the entire package for me, it still gives us a very intriguing peek into where the band are headed. I really hope they get there, too, because they’re tantalisingly close.