Since its last release in 1998, Downward Is Heavenward, alternative metal band Hum has been mostly quiet. Apart from a few short performances and solo work from individual members after breaking up in 2000, the band had convinced fans that it was permanently finished making music.
In a truly shocking manner, however, Hum surprised fans June 23 with Inlet after a 22-year-long wait. Easily the band’s best work, even with four other stellar albums under its belt, Inlet is a masterpiece of Black Sabbath-esque riffs and relatable feelings of sanguinity. Meticulously blending components of space metal and shoegaze, Hum ensures that less than half of the songs are less than six minutes long, each a cascading hallmark of the band’s growth beyond the canned, commercialized path it was about to embark on.
Beginning with the sludgy, chugging track “Waves,” Inlet is a testament that Hum hasn’t changed a bit since its disbanding. In fact, the band’s signature style has only become more refined, dynamic and heavy, while still maintaining the poetic charm that enticed its niche fans all those years ago. “Waves” ends suddenly, one second harboring a solid bassline and the next dropping into silence. The intensity doesn’t let up at all throughout the track, much like the rest of the album.
“In the Den” and “Desert Rambler” follow suit, both wonderfully heavy and futuristic sounding. Jeff Dimpsey’s immensely deep bass transports listeners either to outer space or straight to the Thunderdome — whichever is your cup of tea. The overall tone is dark and despairing, but contains twinges of hope that layer Inlet with the warmth of feeling something, anything at all.
The droning instrumentals coupled with lead singer Matt Talbott’s charged yet calm vocals allow Hum to keep the attention of listeners throughout the record. Unlike the harsh vocals of many metal frontmen, his voice is melodic and smooth, indicating Hum’s connection to the softer nature of shoegaze.
“The Summoning” traverses into the depths of metal, channeling certain aspects of stoner metal and going so far as to touch upon doom metal. But Talbott’s voice shines through clearly amid the black mass of guitars, drums and bass, a guide that carries listeners who find themselves lost in the intense sounds. “The Summoning” is clearly the most metal-sounding song on the album, and that’s a tough title to hold. The track is powerful enough to form a lump in your throat, but strangely soothing. It’s another paradoxical complexity that Hum has mastered.
But Inlet isn’t all sonically-pleasing low notes. Hum proves that it can grapple with ominous synths as well — the “space” part of space metal. “Folding” is the most experimental song on the record, featuring a series of enjoyable discordant sounds for three minutes before ending with a hollow buzz.
“Shapeshifter,” on the other hand, is the most shoegaze song on the record, boasting a considerably slower beat that fades and picks up throughout the song. It’s still in the realm of Hum’s alternative metal identity, but with its light, reverbed guitar, “Shapeshifter” closes out the record on a subdued note, a stark contrast to the hard-hitting “Waves” that escorted listeners into Inlet. Cutting through the song’s dreamy quality, however, Talbott’s fuzzed delivery of the last line, “Suddenly me just here back on the land/ Reaching for you and finding your hand,” brings back the consistent heaviness that pulls listeners back to Earth.
It’s difficult to keep each track on an album full of energy and emotion, but Hum pulls it off flawlessly. Each song has the same structure and underlying instruments, but sounds so different from the rest, holding different nuances of the same message. Hum makes clear to listeners that even with collective distress, there’s always a bit of hope to keep things moving along.
Inlet is a raw display of emotion, a marrying of multiple genres that don’t always go well together. It’s of an otherworldly nature, transporting anyone who ventures inside back to Hum’s prime in the 1990s. But Inlet is not only a means to lift off from the concreteness of the current world — it’s a means to ultimately grow closer to it.
Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].