Hanker - Conspiracy of mass extinction 4/5

Reviewed: 12-1-10


1. Fear the end
2. Beyond the pale
3. Castaway
4. Battle cries
5. Who's crying loud?
6. Conspiracy of mass extinction
7. The infernal depths beneath
8. Fire
9. Crawlers
10. Ruins of generations
11. The one among them
12. First to know
13. Feel it again

This is another one of those oddly named veteran power metal bands (Not Fragile, anyone?) that is extremely talented, but mysteriously overlooked by all but the most ardent supporters of our music. Hanker are a French Canadian quartet who have been hammering away since 1985, with 5 CDs to their credit. Hanker perform something of a hybrid of the American and European power metal styles, fueled by the twin guitar magic of founding members Pascal Cliche (who also sings) and Patrick Gravel. The band are frequently and aptly compared to Jag Panzer, with the caveats that Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin is in another league vocally from Cliche and the Cliche/Gravel penchant for speedy harmony attacks lends a more European feel to Hanker's music than is the staid Coloradans wont. Unlike many bands who burn out after their first couple of outings, Hanker have enjoyed a slow, steady uptick in quality from one CD to the next, as they refine their styles and skills each time out. Their new CD, 'Conspiracy of mass extinction', is noteworthy as it represents Hanker's first new CD since 2004. During that protracted layoff, the band has recruited a brand-new rhythm section, switched record labels (they're on Germany's consistently strong Hellion Records imprint now), and written a fantastic batch of tunes.

After multiple listens, I am convinced that 'Conspiracy of mass extinction' is Hanker's finest hour (well, 56 minutes) to date. Sure, the music is instantly recognizable as Hanker, but something has lit a fire under Cliche and Gravel this time. The songs feature more speed, more dynamics, more urgency, and more passion than I can ever recall in a previous Hanker recording. Whereas past Hanker CDs tended to suffer from occasional energy lulls and lapses, 'Conspiracy of mass extinction' feels more direct and focused, and it really never lets up from beginning to end. And the vocal lines seem better crafted and more memorable this time. Rest assured, however, that one key ingredient hasn't changed: The dual guitar work remains top-notch and uplifting, as always on Hanker CDs.

Although many of the tracks on display are outstanding, a song like track 4, "Battle cries", encapsulates everything that is wonderful about Hanker anno 2010. As the song begins, the guitars manage to tug at your heartstrings before they kick into high gear and savagely rip out your molars. The tempo ebbs and flows enough to keep things interesting, but mostly cruises along at high velocity. And Cliche squeezes every drop of power and emotion from his limited (but charismatic) voice as he begs, "Take me home/Cause I can hear no more battle cries." A shimmering harmony guitar part gives way to an Iron Maiden-influenced melodic theme as the speed drops down, before the whole damn thing explodes into a scorching solo and the chorus takes us all home. And all of this happens in a shade over 5 minutes. The coolest part is that "Battle cries" isn't even the best song on the CD (that honor goes to the exhilarating galloping title track).

What Hanker have done here is really impressive. Just as their 2000 'Snakes and ladders' CD marked an artistic watershed moment for the band, so too does 'Conspiracy of mass extinction' represent another bold, exciting step forward. Given that new bassist Laurent Imbeau is credited (along with Cliche and Gravel) for writing, arranging and producing this CD, I can't help but wonder if Imbeau is the "X factor" responsible for catapulting his bandmates to greater heights than they had achieved before. Whatever the explanation may be, 'Conspiracy of mass extinction' earns a hearty and enthusiastic recommendation for all fans of Hanker's past work, the time-honored Jag Panzer style, or speedy guitar-driven heartfelt true/traditional heavy metal in general. The main point of caution here is that, for the uninitiated, Cliche's distinctive voice may be a bit of an acquired taste (although I do think he suits the songs well and adds a lot through his emotional performance). Also, bear in mind that, while all of the lyrics are written in English, Hanker's native tongue is French. So expect the occasional awkward lyric that doesn't feel quite right in the translation. Other than that, Hanker's new opus is most worthy. Seek and destroy, my friends...




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