Originally written by Doug Moore.
Anyone who’s tried to express an idea via words or music is familiar with the frustration of translation errors from one medium to the other. No matter how perfectly formulated and designed the concept seems mentally, it never seems willing to conform to expectations once on paper or in notes, and no amount of effort can return it to the original design. I’d be willing to bet that A Life Once Lost has more than a passing familiarity with that sort of teeth-grinding aggravation. Each of the band’s efforts has been solid and highly enjoyable, but as of yet, true greatness has eluded them each time. It’s not that the potential isn’t there; these Philly techsters have talent coming out of their ears, and the riffs and musicianship to prove it. It’s just that every album by this band seems to just barely miss what it was intended to do, and the little flaws are enough to significantly detract from the group’s inherent power. I’m disappointed to report that Hunter is no different; while a very strong album by any measure, it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of A Life Once Lost’s back catalogue.
Probably the most frustrating thing about this album is the exceptional quality on display in its high points. The already well-circulated “Needleman,” for example, is a crushing summation of modern heavy metal’s strong points; its catchier-than-Ebola chorus, pummeling stop-start riffage, and stratospheric leads run together into a dense ball of articulate and memorable fury. A Life Once Lost seems to have largely outgrown the Meshuggah-jocking of A Great Artist, and their influences now include such disparate modern luminaries as Burnt by the Sun and Lamb of God. The viciously anthemic “Vulture” contains elements of both, with the cement-thick dissonance of the former and the overdriven twang (and vocalist) of the latter. In fact, the more varied songs on this album are by and large the best, as the newly diverse riffs of guitarists Douglas Sabolick and Robert Carpenter mesh well with the rhythm section’s familiar disorienting grooves. Drummer Justin Graves turns in the standout technical performance of the album; his skinsmanship is complex but tasteful and controlled, and his kick-drum dexterity has few equals in this era of over-the-top blasters. Unfortunately, for all of the progress A Life Once Lost has made, they still haven’t quite nailed this one. Most notably, the specter of the trance-inducing repetition and dryness that plagued A Great Artist is still lurking about; the monotone stomp of “Ghosting” and the rubber-bandisms of “Grotesque” will have listeners staring off into space and reaching unconsciously for their copies of Destroy Erase Improve. That said, the problem is not nearly as severe as it was on the aforementioned release, and Hunter’s more varied tempos and notably less dehydrated Rob Caggiano production make for a much more listenable experience.
As good as this record is (and it is quite good), it’s hard for me to really cut A Life Once Lost the slack they arguably deserve. Even now, the explosive but unfocussed energy of their first two releases and the much-maligned but nonetheless intense AGA sound like the products of a band inches away from real importance in the current American metal scene, and Hunter only solidifies the impression. Ultimately, though, that’s the album’s problem. It’s just not as good as it should be. Scads of metal fans will enjoy this for what it is, but me, I’m gonna hold out for that immense album that A Life Once Lost has on the tip of their tongue but hasn’t quite managed to spit out.