Forming in February this year, Heartline have quickly begun to carve a path for themselves in the heavy music scene. The band have already played shows alongside Windwaker, The Brave, and Wither, introducing their sound locally while simultaneously lighting a spark of curiosity to hear more from them. Hailing from Adelaide, the four piece of Luke Taylor (vocals), Fraser Stiles (guitar), Nevenko Sarunic (bass), and Michael Cooper (drums), have their debut EP Essence releasing this Friday (13th September). It follows on the heels of debut single “Frail”, and the EP’s lead single “Covert”.
Essence starts with “Return”, which is a instrumental track that wafts side-to-side with a dark and muffled sense of what’s to come. The track comes across like a coming to life experience, with one looking around in coldness and trying to make sense of their surroundings.
“Return”‘s twenty-two seconds lead into “Essence”, which is smoothed by its undercurrent of silky bass, noisy riffs, and steady beats. It’s forward-propelling, with the roar of “There’s always another way” painting a scene of tension with loose and looping riffage. The sung verses with their altered/manipulated vocals create something that’s dreamy, drifting, and searching. I find myself lost and adrift in my headphones with this. Later verses fittingly craft the increasing tension with extra layers and noise.
“Essence” seems to speak about suicide, and the pregnant pause that leads into rapidly running syllables makes for painting breath-holding moment that needs desperate intervention. This seems to be what “Essence” seeks to do, urging for people to “Take a moment just to think / It’s you they’re gonna miss”. Goosebumps run down my arms as the growing instrumental tension couples with the increased franticness of voice. Erratic rhythms and heaviness with a djenty breakdown fit the worse case scenario.
There’s surprising beauty then, with a pulsing beat and a chiming melody and a vibe of trepidation. This clearly ain’t just straight metalcore. The final chorus and its call to pause and think before you act in an irreversible way is truly palpable.
“Twenty Two” is a different kind of ‘beauty’ then, with a relatively messy turbulence. The urgency that comes across like an overwhelmed/anxious mind works a treat, but I felt like I expected something a little tighter at around the 0:20 point, where there’s floaty distance to the vocals along with the stormy instrumentation. If it makes sense to say, I feel like it needed to carry that chaotic vibe and also feel clearly deliberate in creating that chaos. In the context of the song’s meaning, which is questioning what’s true and what’s not, it does make sense to feel that things are hard to grasp or make sense of.
Heartline’s song structures are interesting, and “Twenty Two” is no different. With all this talk of messiness, it might be a surprise for me to talk about the arrival of a serene moment of ponderment which then slips into something more like emphatic rap rhythms with that same serene atmosphere playing out. Again I wanted this to feel tighter, with the vocals feeling far more connected with the instrumentation. The seemed to be two differing paths that split my attention as a listener. If this was the point (given the lyric of “There’s two of me but the other is not seen”, it’s possible!), then it’s genius, but it may not have instant listener appeal.
Thematically, “Twenty Two” also marries up a two-faceted situation, where attempts for something better are acknowledged but there is difficulty in pulling it off in actuality. I feel like this track chronicles anxiety or similar, and hits a point of realisation where a destructive element of themselves would die along with their own death. This is shared with a tense teetering on the edge sense of facing off with the ‘other’, with literal screams for internal harmony instead of death.
“I don’t like who I see”
Moving on to “Weightless”, I got instant goosebumps with this track. A gentle melody and heartbeat-esque pulses couple with singing about a loss of identity or loss of self. It has a contemplative kind of vibe, which wonders out loud about the uniting sense of uncertainty. It gains strength with more instruments joining in, and has a layer of altered vocals with the second verse.
The effects used and more experimental elements give “Weightless” a feeling of confusion before landing most strongly toward it’s end; affirming “We’ll be okay”. I dig the instrumentation as a whole, how this track makes me feel, and the journey it’s taken me on from its beginning.
In contrast, a burst of energy comes far more immediately via “Covert”. This is a bombarding track which carries frustration in more ways than one. There was again some ‘messiness’ by way of the guitars that I noticed, wondering whether it’s the tone that I’m not gelling with or something else. A tightening up would make this even better. It doesn’t really detract from the song though, which slams hectically for its first 50 seconds.
The track hooks into a similar theme of identity, but in this case refers to being one’s self, truthfully, versus putting on a smile to soothe others’ perspectives. It also touches on the idea of not being able to enact what they know to be right. The inner turmoil of deciding one or the other is well-expressed by rolling waves of heavy sound that come after a suspended moment in time. When the waves pass with a djent-centred effort, it’s as if we’re floating for awhile, making a decision as to how to handle things, and this hitting home strongly. There’s a lot to take in, and again it’s a dynamic journey.
Nature sounds and long tones introduce Essence‘s final song, “Mirror”. Eyes are the focal point; where the life and colour is absent from the eyes of one that they love. This is relatively soft and sad, and has cleanly sung vocals present with varying strengths of effects on them. I found some of the vocal manipulations too stifling (around 1:15) for what’s being shared, preferring a more vulnerable expression. I also was unsure about some of the vocal rhythms/timing.
The structure of this last track is interesting, with what sounds like one (great) ‘chorus’ in this progressively strengthening piece. It also has a rapped section that comes with the crashing and searching peak of the song’s instrumentation. It literally sounds like a bleed of reassurance that’s desperate to get through to the grey-eyed friend. It took a few listens for me to gel with this section, first thinking it needed some refining by way of rhythms and timing, before getting used to it how it is. “Mirror” ends feeling like a hope for something better but retains the same sombre vibe throughout.
I appreciated how Essence hooked into the themes of identity and expression of one’s true nature, and found its ideas to be interesting and refreshing. I do feel there is definitely room for improvement and tightening up of sound though, with some tones and timing in particular grabbing my attention unnecessarily.
My experience of reviewing this EP had me consider whether music should have immediate ‘curb appeal’, or whether it should be allowed to express itself as art that matches a particular state of mind or mood. For example if one is feeling split and internally chaotic as in “Twenty Two”, you could ‘sing a song about that’ with verse-chorus-verse that’s catchy et cetera, or you could be immersed in the chaos and feel it along with the band that’s expressing it. I felt like Heartline could be doing the latter, which I kind of love, but would a review or a surface listen experience it negatively? The point is, they’re making music for them, as themselves, and this is what is important.
As a debut release, Essence is a strong one. There was no sense of Heartline playing it safe at all, and they really flexed their creative muscles by way of structure in particular. These songs didn't conjure up any "Oh that sounds like..." reactions in me, and didn't seem like Heartline were trying to be anyone except themselves; truly walking their talk in terms of what the EP explores thematically.
Surprisingly colourful and dynamic, sharing original ideas in an interesting and meaningful way.
Some sections seemed like they would benefit from some additional polish/tightening of sound.