Facebook really can suck sometimes. I had some inklings that a new Hillward album was forthcoming, and I think I even shared a single they released, but the album release simply popped up one day. So, the new Hillward album, called “System”, released on July 31st, and I’m happy to say that it is worth the wait since 2015.
Hillward hails from Québec and consists of David Lizotte on vocals and guitars, Alexandre on guitars, André-Philippe Pouliot on keys, Jean-François Boudreault on bass, and Antoine Guertin on drums. I originally discovered Hillward as a fan of Southern Cross, a progressive metal outfit including David and Antoine as members. Their music has definitely matured since then; and, honestly, the music has even gotten deeper and more textured since the debut, too.
Hillward’s debut, called “Flies in Amber Stones”, grabbed me with its tight melodies and high energy. This sophomore album has the same elements, but feels more developed and grounded. The musical style is definitely heavy prog, and it really rocks. The music centers on strong guitar licks, lots of distortion, and winding instrumentals. It might not be something new or unique, but it’s done very well and with lots of energy and oomph.
The first half of the album is pleasant and engaging enough, especially if you like progressive rock with some edge. However, I feel like the second half is where the meat really lives. The band takes their base sound and plays with the song structures, adding cinematic flairs and backing melodies that really push their style to new heights. On top of that, these layers make the music feel darker, and somehow that endears it to me a bit more.
The first half has some great tracks, for sure. “Foster the River” is a pleasant opener with sounds of water and acoustic guitar. “Long Way Down” is a great single with some edge. “Hollow” really kicks the album into overdrive with its strong guitars. It ends with a wonderful melody, though. It offers shades of what the second half of the album will give us.
The rubber officially meets the road with “Life in Serigraph”, a fantastic track with some excellent guitar work that really gets my heart pumping. “Flat Light” soars into the spotlight with fantastic guitars, but also more melody and filmic structures than anywhere else on the album. “Fragile” is an interestingly subtle track. It’s no ballad, though. It’s more atmospheric and cinematic than that, and launches into a subdued instrumental near the end. Finally, “Behind the Silence” might have the most engaging chorus on the album, and the ending is cinematic and gorgeous, if a bit abrupt.
The overall sound of the album is great and there are some truly epic moments. I think Hillward is still missing just a little something to launch them into the prog solar system. “Flat Light” and “Fragile” might have that little something, what with all the melody and fascinating structure, and the results are stunning in my mind. “System” is a great step forward for the band, and I really expect a true masterpiece from them someday.