Back in 2012, I came across a fantastic album from Canadian prog metal band Southern Cross. “From Tragedy” was a brilliant record, one that made me crave more instantly. That band seems to have broken up, or perhaps it morphed into Hillward. Hillward recently released their third album, this one called “Alternate Timelines”. After a couple great albums, I had high hopes for this one, and it definitely pays off pretty well. The album released on March 29th.
As I mentioned, the band comes to us from Canada: Québec, to be exact. The band consists of David Lizotte on guitars, vocals, and synths; Alexandre Lapierre on lead guitars; André-Philippe Pouliot on keyboards and synths; Jean-François Boudreault on bass; and Antoine Guertin on drums, vocals, and synths. Three of those band members were also part of the aforementioned metal band Southern Cross.
Hillward isn’t metal, though. They do have their heavy, riffing moments, but my mind places them more in a hard progressive rock genre, similar to Porcupine Tree or Riverside. The band’s music leans on guitars typically, but on this album I feel like the band balances guitars and synths impressively. Some of the wildest, most amazing moments on the record are due to the fantastic synth compositions and also orchestrations. Their last couple albums were definitely great, if ever so slightly vanilla, but these synth melodies and solos really add something. The music just sounds different this time.
I have two things I want to note about this release. First, Southern Cross was especially good because of the stunning, enriching instrumentals. This has definitely translated over to Hillward, and it remains the case for “Alternate Timelines”. I attribute this mainly to having the guitars, bass, and drums from Southern Cross, all of which are equal parts sweeping, pulsating, and technical in execution. Again and again here, instrumentals transition, shift, and experiment in glorious ways, and they have a tendency to sweep you away with them.
Second, I have to comment on the vocals. David is a fantastic musician, but his vocals are definitely the band’s weakness. They aren’t bad, per se, but they lack character and dynamic range. I feel like David misses a few crucial notes on a few of the tracks, and often comes across as monotonous in tone. I hope he can forgive me for that paragraph. In the past, his bands have used harsh vocals to offset this, but Hillward doesn’t use harsh vox, so his vocals end up feeling off balance.
That said, the album is still very strong. The songs are catchy and wind with energy, while somehow also feeling cautionary and pensive. Songs like “Fire and Brimstone” and “Vapor Trails” illustrate this well. The former offers some wailing, foreboding guitar work and a chugging instrumental that I love. The latter has probably the strongest hook on the album, and David sounds really good on it. It helps that there are several layers in play here, from strong guitars to wicked orchestrations. Both of are fantastic songs.
The remaining six tracks are all wonderful, too. My favorites are probably “Deafen the Void” with its subtle synth and beautiful melodies, “Waiting” with its abstractions and slow-burning balance between loud and soft, and “Un” with its unbelievable yet low key instrumental in the second half. I should also mention the closer “Tainted Eyes”: its blend of cinema, darkness, and gritty synth feels amazing.
Hillward have yet another strong album on their hands, yet I feel like the shortcomings of the vocals reveal themselves more vividly as the band gets better and better overall. This album hits hard and feels quite inspired, regardless of any weaknesses. This should definitely be a crowd pleaser.
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