Heyoka’s Mirror – “The Uninvited King” Album Review
An expansive scope within a genre of endless possibility. An amalgamation of vocal styles accentuated by eclectic instrumental character. A debut album which promises a bold undertaking both in concept and execution. Together, these elements could very well make a recipe for disaster. But when placed in the hands of Heyoka’s Mirror, they form the brilliant splendor of “The Uninvited King.” Self-identified as a progressive metal and rock band, the Calgary-based act has chosen to pour their hearts and souls into their first studio album, and the result is a sonic journey filled with the magic of creative ambition. A storm of metallic chaos and ingenuity define an opus which is as engaging as it is novel, and its release marks Heyoka’s Mirror as an unmistakably brilliant band with much to offer.
Founded in 2015 by Andrew Balboa and Omar Sultan, the band released their EP “Loss of Contact With Reality” in 2017. Following the departure of their original drummer in 2018, the remaining bandmates began to write “The Uninvited King” in 2019. To fill the absence, they enlisted the help of Casey Lewis and Johnny Kerr on drums, and Brendan Rothwell on bass. Despite the change of instrumentalists, Heyoka’s Mirror have managed to create an incredibly comprehensive sound which emphasizes chemistry between contributors, coupled with songwriting that highlights each musician’s respective strength. Their sound is further enhanced by additional instrumental contributions, including a strong piano presence and the injection of vibrant synth to broaden the breadth of the album even further.
One of the most impressive characteristics of “The Uninvited King” is the smooth blend between rock and metal influences, bleeding from pure fire and fury into galloping hard rock riffs, interspersed with more delicate melodies. No song showcases this contrast better than the variety within “Deal With the Devil.” From guttural roars to a radio-ready chorus, the bright lights and murky depths of this song coalesce for unparalleled grandeur. Splashes of harmonica give a small dose of quirkiness to distinguish Heyoka’s Mirror without ever pulling the listener from their immersion: each detail on this album, however strange it appears on its face, fits just right in setting the tone. The fluid execution on such a diverse collection of songs is a testament to not just the songwriting of the album, but in the production, which balances the various atmospheric needs from one passage to another. Each instrument takes its fair share at the front of the mix, giving particular attention to Sultan’s technical mastery on guitar. Also notable is the sheer clarity of the bass, as the instrument always comes through cleanly, and is even afforded the occasional opportunity in the spotlight.
Though the album certainly leans in a heavier direction, the care paid to more meandering interludes prove the attention to detail which went into crafting each moment. The graceful piano which opens “King of Deception” dives shortly into hearty riffs, backing off only to allow a strong vocal entry. The longer tracks span close to ten minutes long, the longest being showstopper “The Darkness Within.” Packed with tempo changes and what amounts to a false ending in its center, “The Darkness Within” is a thrilling progressive masterpiece. Particular accolades are due to the drumming at its heart, as their frenetic display serves a much more prominent role than simply keeping pace.
There is something of a concept weaving together this ambitious adventure, which makes its overall cohesion all the more impressive. However, there are times where the story draws away from the collective brilliance of a particular song. “Asylum” is one such example, with a jarring segment of spoken narrative drawing attention from an otherwise seamless track. This moment is less distracting in the music video, which demonstrates the pure passion and enthusiasm driving the project alongside fantastic cinematography. It puts across the image of a band that is not just experienced, but overflowing with self-confidence in their work. The same can be said of “The Uninvited King” in its entirety: there is not a moment of hesitation, even in the boldest endeavors of “The Darkness Within.” The pure energy pouring out from every note makes the listening experience all the more visceral, with the listener held captive through every high and low.
Further dynamic appeal emerges in Balboa’s voice, which is held as an equal to the instrumental contributions. From frenzied shouting to falsettos and smoky rasps, there is little vocal territory left unexplored in “The Uninvited King.” Harsh vocals in tracks such as “King of Deception” add depth and dimension against the higher notes of “Deal With the Devil.” Balboa is the perfect match to establish a style defined by versatility, and he has the consistency to tie together even the most disparate of passages.
One could pick out a range of bands that have similar appeals as Heyoka’s Mirror, with similarities to Haken showing through the more progressive touches in “Heavy Rain,” while the unbridled explosion of madness of “The Darkness Within” may be compared to System of a Down. But these influences last for no more than fleeting moments, culminating in something of a unique identity which will give Heyoka’s Mirror strong and independent footing as they show the world their limitless potential.
An expansive journey through darkness comes to an end in the welcoming embrace of “Celebration of Light.” Reminiscent of earlier Ayreon excursions, the balance between synth and a bright guitar make for a triumphant closing. The subtleties offer a satisfying conclusion to an otherwise tumultuous tale, and offer further prove that the album’s composition is absolutely top-notch. There is no question “The Uninvited King” will turn heads, and Heyoka’s Mirror should be on the radar of every progressive metal fan hungry for something new. With a debut so strong and so comprehensive, there is no doubt their potential is almost limitless.
Heyoka’s Mirror have harnessed the chaotic potential of progressive metal and worked it into a compelling story of magnanimous proportions. Employing numerous tools and talents, their debut album “The Uninvited King” is a tumultuous expression of inspired creative vision, one which persists with brilliance from the opening note to closing echoes.
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