Album Reviews

Album Review: HIPPOTRAKTOR – Stasis

Mechelen, Belgium post-metal quintet Hippotraktor has experienced tremendous growth since being rounded out by guitarist Sander Rom and percussionist Stefan de Graef, both of whom share vocal duties. Their 2021 album Meridian gave them greater distinction from the original members’ previous band Psychonaut, introducing more contemporary storytelling while complementing the similarly frenetic foundation they’d built as a trio. On June 7th, 2024, they will release Stasis, the much-anticipated sophomore album featuring this newfound configuration.

Hippotraktor - StasisUnlike their debut album, which begins with a gradual buildup, this album’s opener, “Descent” immediately leaps into a full-force chord sequence with no delay. I appreciate the way the sequence is structured in the intro, melding blunt and harsh notes with contrastingly melodic textures. The staccato riffing that proceeds it provides a solid gateway to the vocals, which, when utilized, have a nuanced feel about them – part grimacing shriek, part dejected sigh. The cleaner vocals seem to carry a similar feeling, both in their subdued and emphatic approaches, feeling especially impactful when harmonized alongside the riff that began the song. Toward the second half of the song is where the band’s penchant for melody takes over, and they utilize carefully and smartly so that the eventual return to heaviness isn’t abrupt. Throughout the album, these stylistic elements characterize the experience of its protagonist, who, while about to cross a river on a ferry, bluntly refuses to trust the ferryman. In noting the protagonist’s egregious retort, the ferryman shows him a mirror revealing that he has acted similarly in the past.   As he peers deeper into the mirror, he reflects on his past life, constantly swayed between states of agency and uncertainty.   The carrier single “Silver Tongue,” alongside “Echoes” represents the trajectory wherein assumes he is finding his own way but is brainwashed by a group of oblivious miscreants – the Silver Tongues – into lawlessness and violence, only acknowledging traces of his once normal, law-abiding existence. As these tracks continue to explore greater stylistic territory, including looser, subtler interpretations of the arrangements that were set up, it’s as if the protagonist takes various detours that lead him on and off the grid. While he tries desperately to regain his sense of independent thought, he is still convinced that amorality is the way to be. On “The Indifferent Human Eye”, the track takes its time establishing a clean instrumental bed of simple, yet active guitar layers, bolstered by tribal drums that accentuate their tonal nuance. When the heaviness enters the involvement, it works at showcasing how his unbridled anger slowly breaks down into bleak disenchantment. Much action occurs with the interplay between the riffs and harmonics within the guitars, that function seamlessly alongside the vocal harmonies.

By “Stasis,” the first of two longer singles, it’s at this point that the protagonist feels the extent of betrayal by those he thought he could call his own and decides to revolt against them. The heavier moments come in deeper and are the most extreme up to this point, still finding presence amidst blistering, crunchy guitars and drum arrangements. This track showcases its versatility at the halfway point, each instrument standing out in their own unique way, and utilizes a clean, jazzy solo while remaining unified in a constant pocket. “Renegade” serves as the sister track to “Silver Tongue,” continuing with a similar instrumental framework. It’s at this point that that the protagonist strives to make a true effort to fight for the greater good yet is still overcome by bouts of disenchantment and feels that his efforts alone will not ultimately suffice. The final track, “The Reckoning,” devotes a large amount of the track to clean and clear instrumentation and vocals, which is refreshing. This time, the melodic nuance doesn’t seem obscured by the heaviness, and the structure of the arrangement is more noticeable in terms of both chords and leads. Although the protagonist feels as if he should have fought harder for his plight, he finds solace in meeting another person who embarked on the same journey, and ultimately accepts his fate.

Photo: Sam Coussens

Overall, Stasis cements the proof that Hippotraktor’s quintet formation is far from a one-off venture. The song structures complement both soft and screaming vocals carefully and smartly, utilizing specific, subtle tonal qualities in the chords, drums, and depending on how far the listener is in the album. The protagonist striving to be a voice of reason in a largely indifferent and alien world, and all the while recognizing his humility in the process no matter the difficulty, is a very relatable story arc, and I look forward to how the band further implements this angle in a contemporary setting on future material.



Jake Küssmaul

Jake is a musician and writer from the hamlet of Hawthorne, NY. Despite having mild cerebral palsy, he continues to break barriers, developing solid connections and lasting friendships with bands around the world.

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