There’s a reason Hope for the Dying’s third full-length release was included on HM’s Top 25 Most Anticipated Albums of 2016 list. As one of Facedown Records’ most gifted and inventive metal acts, the band’s latest album, Legacy, demonstrates voracious growth as a songwriting and arrangement powerhouse. The Jonesboro, Illinois band has widened the cinematic scope of their blackened, progressive metal métier. The group who once described themselves as the “death metal soundtrack to Braveheart” comes to fully realize that depiction with the ten interrelated compositions that comprise the work.
Flourishes of flamenco and folk ply the edges of Legacy’s solid showcase of technical metal; a classical undercurrent of orchestral fanfare provides the medieval, Lord of the Rings vibe often associated with Hope for the Dying’s elaborate and unrelenting recordings. Everything here is draped in a primordial-but-stately ambience, reinforcing the on-the-money metal vocals of singer Josh Ditto, the brutal and precise percussion by drummer Brendan Hengle, and the ornate, conversant fretwork from guitarists Jack Daniels and James Houseman. A truly collaborative effort, Legacy has Hengle doubling on bass (and even some guitar), Ditto on keys, and each member contributing production and orchestration in various capacities — all while Daniels and Houseman scorch the earth with their guitar leads.
Legacy starts with a picturesque intro, the one-minute score of “Aurora,” written to set the stage for “Setting Sun,” the first of the album’s nine symphonic metal masterpieces. The track — with Ditto declaring, “We have but one life left to live, just one chance to take, barely just one breath to breathe” in one of the album’s many cinematic flashes — leads to “Flame Forged,” a muscular metal suite with an prelude bordering on bossa nova. “Narcissus” follows, a Legacy highlight, the antimaterialistic anthem focusing on the need for eternal freedom when life is “lost and forgotten at the bottom of the sea.” The greatness of the guitar work here can’t be overstated. “Nemesis” injects some thrash into the mix and rolls out well-placed guest appearances from The Burial’s Elisha Mullins and Becoming the Archetype’s Jason Wisdom.
“Trenches” keeps the energy up and the guitar solos blistering as Ditto recounts the increasing weight of life lived and roads traveled, admitting that “lessening the load seems impossible.” “Wretched Curse” begins with piano fit for a horror movie before launching into a nine-minute, mid-tempo metal jam with Shane Ochsner, the man behind Everything in Slow Motion, lending his unmistakable inflection on the primeval metal pandemonium. “Wander No More” delivers a hopeful ascent in lyrical content, offering a “light we can follow” in the midst of endless travails. The album’s penultimate centerpiece and climactic title track, “Legacy,” constructs a fanciful microcosm of the Legacy saga, before finishing off the record with the agile and surprisingly catchy “Adamantine.”
Legacy is a robust addition to Hope for the Dying’s catalog, and no doubt the band’s most ambitious release to date. I doubt you’ll find a more satisfying or meaningful collection of orchestral metal this year; HFTD’s Legacy has certainly lived up to its heightened expectations.