Bristol’s HAAL return with ‘Janus’, their first track since 2021’s ‘Memorial’ and a similarly tightly-orchestrated and intimidating five minute platter of post-rock.
‘Janus’ makes its start in a similar way to ‘Memorial’ – a neo-Gregorian vocal paired with a guitar as articulated and sinewy as a spider’s leg – but ‘Janus’ seems to be more interested in texture and physicality, revealed immediately in its steroidally muscular percussion. These hits are electronic, brutally large and glitch-ridden to an almost leprous extent, guiding and driving the track like massive low-poly border collies herding sheep.
This palette is refreshed come the halfway point – fitting for a track named for a god with two faces. Fizzy rhythmic claustrophobia is supplanted by a living kit and out of nowhere, a tightly-squeezed trumpet with melodies as beautifully aimless as a butterfly in a jar. Enter now the World’s Widest Synth, completely dominating the track’s closing minutes with it’s deep colour.
HAAL are no strangers to five-minute post rock epics and this track is further confirmation of their craft. ‘Janus’ is studded with instrumental quirks and melodic details large and small, placed delicately, deliberately and decoratively to keep the interest up as we move through the runtime. An example here is a choral synth that rapidly oscillates like it’s spinning down the drain, as well as the track’s final seconds – all artifice and illusion removed suddenly to leave just the instruments and their players noodling in a room together.
By their own admission HAAL look to the 1990s for inspiration, and ‘Janus’ is about as high-90s as it can get without straying into the dreaded territory of pastiche. In lyrics that describe guilt and alienation and lament a lack of control, it deftly invokes the anxieties of an era of runaway technological advancement outstripping the societal means to control and comprehend. The tracks artwork underlines this, depicting visceral cyberpunk anguish – think Edvard Munch by way of 1997’s criminally underrated body horror Event Horizon – and the accompanying video starring janky PS1 depictions of the band engaged in acts of bleak and mysterious techno-alchemy.
‘Janus’ is brooding and gloomy, but not sour for its own sake. It is machinic in its precision and formidable in its industrial scope. In all the best ways, it’s long leather trench coats in the rain in slow motion; it’s sunglasses at all times, even at night, but especially indoors. More than anything else, it’s a towering return for a band to keep your cybernetically-enhanced eye on.
Words: Ed Hambly // Photo: Caleb Byrne-Smith
‘Janus’ is out now via Blitzcat Records. Stream and purchase the track via Bandcamp.