Hylda - Juniper Pyre (Self-released)

“Blackened skramz” is among the most ubiquitous of emo-metal hybrids, perhaps because its two constituent subgenres share a lot of common ground. For better or worse, the combination between screamo and black metal (BM) often does little to differentiate itself from traditional outings in the former mode, simply played with more speed and blastbeats. More compelling genre fusions tend to highlight the idiosyncrasies of each style, which is exactly what Hylda set out to do on their debut album, Juniper Pyre. The Connecticut trio flaunt a masterful fluency in post-hardcore, screamo, sludge, and BM, which helps them mix and match the most explosive traits from each to really bombard the senses. Although the record comes branded with the “blackened skramz” tag, there’s more here than just woe-is-me songcraft at a faster tempo.

From the opener, “Garden of Eyes”, Hylda let listeners glimpse their wide-ranging repertoire. A post-metal dirge abruptly becomes a rollercoaster ride that careens up and down through vanilla screamo catharsis into a monolithic wall of sludgy BM. The production really helps showcase the metallic half of the equation; Gabe Shara’s guitar is nothing if not crushingly heavy, and the bass fuzz is ripped right out of a Melvins album. These raunchy tones splay out in a slow recurring melody, not only laying groundwork for the track’s thick atmosphere, but also offering a leitmotif used throughout the course of the release.

This structure gives the listener something to hold onto as the record screeches forward in chaotic spurts. Hylda’s bombastic blazes borrow not only from Orchid’s emoviolence (ex-member Will Killingsworth mixed most of the tracks), but also encompass various sounds of the 90s post-hardcore underground. (See the spunky mischief that sends off “Gemini,” for one of the more satisfying examples.) United by tight drumming, the guitar, bass, and throat-ruining vocal performance coalesce into a synergy of ferocity. Compositionally, the songs are remarkable for their ability to harness this energy and engage the listener in a narrative, rather than simply leap between cheap senses of bewilderment. Juniper Pyre offers little in the way of nitpicking. While the vocals are perhaps the least varied piece of the puzzle, closer “Ascension in Vertigo” boasts a thrilling diversity, with an absolutely disorienting section disturbed by bellowing growls. More than twice as long as any other song on the album, it’s a satisfying culmination, giving hope that Hylda’s pyre will burn indefinitely.