Graded on a Curve:
Low Flying Hawks,
Kofuku

Hailing from Mexico, Low Flying Hawks specialize in a dark-toned, art-imbued, and indisputably heavy style of contempo metal, and it’s fair to add enigmatic to the description; composed of two dudes sporting the handles EHA and AAL, they share guitar, bass, and vocal duties and fill out their sound with contributions from Trevor Dunn on bass and Melvin Dale Crover on drums. Produced by Toshi Kasai, formerly of Seattle sludge maulers Big Business, Kōfuku is an unusually confident debut album, and it’s available February 12 on Magnetic Eye Records.

As they emerge, some outfits tend to go a smidge overboard in the biographical department. Low Flying Hawks, or as the name is occasionally stylized, Lowflyinghawks, fall on the opposite side, obviously preferring the air of mystery. As stated above, they are from Mexico, which the last time I checked was a rather sizable slab of real estate, and I’ve unturned no further geographical enlightenment. Moreover, the use of what seem to be initials helps to cultivate anonymity, though the duo isn’t averse to credit (or for that matter, photos); EHA is the songwriter and primary vocalist.

They’re also not shy about detailing a batch of wide-ranging influences, name-checking Richard D James (a.k.a. Aphex Twin), Black Sabbath, the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, and My Bloody Valentine and citing the impact of drone, noise-rock, psych, shoegaze, post-rock, and least surprisingly metal as part of Kōfuku’s overall equation.

Considering the breadth of that list, Low Flying Hawks have cultivated a cohesive, disciplined attack right out of the gate. Those not smitten with the doom subgenre aren’t likely to be goosed by the contents here, as the disparate interests are best described as seasoning on an assured, and based on the ambiguous narrative of the song titles, possibly conceptual first outing.

The opening title track serves as a prelude of sorts, featuring Dunn bowing his upright bass amid the ominous rumble of drums, a combination setting the tone for a considerably dark record. In Low Flying Hawks’ favor, nothing in their arsenal of influence feels grafted on in an attempt to distinguish them from numerous other dark metal acts. And if dark, they’re not relentlessly bleak; before segueing into “Now, Apocalypse” the opener concludes with the first in a handful of audio samples, this one offering an undercurrent of humor.

Or at least potentially, as the thud-flecked slowness of the following number is definitely cut from the doom mold, though it sidesteps the molasses like lethargy exuded by the style’s more extreme practitioners. Instead of hovering and lurching, “Now, Apocalypse” actually moves, and the motion works to counter a running time that flirts with the overly generous.

But in this case ambition is preferable to reserve, especially since EHA and AAL recruited a sturdy twosome to realize their objectives and sealed the deal with the bold clarity of Kasai in the dual role of engineer and producer. “Seafloor Fathoms” injects a bit of liveliness into the scenario, the song inching toward a dynamic that’ll get a few heads nodding if not necessarily banging.

At 53 and change Kōfuku is a copious dish, and Low Flying Hawks additionally elongate the majority of the individual selections. It’s a maneuver paying off well in “Fading Sun,” the heft of its nearly seven minutes subtly building into a conclusion of mauling waves of distorted density that lend validity to their shoegaze inclination.

While not reaching the duration of a legit double album, Magnetic Eye has chosen to spread Kōfuku across two LPs, and as it thrives on a rich audio scheme (there’s nothing lo-fi about it) that’s particularly sweet on headphones, the vinyl expansion isn’t at all superfluous. Although it doesn’t reach the heights of “Fading Sun,” side two’s opener “White Temple” retains the energy as it nudges into more trad (but still heavy) metallic territory.

Dunn’s bowing and the downright massive drum thunder return on the equally succinct “Kokkai”; akin to “Kōfuku,” it functions to set up the bulky glide of “Ruins,” its atmosphere thick and rough but with a dollop of psych and a melodic sensibility that if nowhere near the realms of pop is aptly evaluated as anthemic. Fists will assuredly pump, and it’s not at all surprising Magnetic Eye chose “Ruins” as an advance for the record.

The label also picked “Wolves within Wolves,” in aid of promotion and with the attention grabbing lead guitar at the outset it’s not difficult to see why; as the most structurally varied track on Kōfuku, it offers a short and quite pretty midsection redirecting into chunky riffing and a return to a more bombastic approach capped with titanic drum spillage.

It segues directly into “Till the Night Meets the Light,” the shortest of Dunn’s contributions. This time he plucks as Crover sits out. This leaves “Destruction Complete” to fill the fourth side. Commencing with a final audio sample, a tide of swaggering sludge gives way to a passage of relative quiet as simple guitar notes are mingled with distressed, distant tones before the full unit kicks in.

Low Flying Hawks can effectively manage a colossal groove, and as on “Wolves within Wolves” prove adept a dishing out riffs without falling into underwhelming holding patterns. “Destruction Complete” doesn’t remain in one space for too long, and in fact is maybe a mite too diverse; the mildly psychedelic spots could’ve stuck around for a while, though EHA’s low-mixed Ian Astbury-esque wailing is a cool twist.

Perhaps because of the unforgiving retail nature of the era, many contemporary debuts shoulder an aura of cautiousness. Kōfuku connects as just the opposite; while it can be a little lofty to absorb in one sitting, the record sufficiently drives home the talent and potential of Low Flying Hawks.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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