Hillward is a prog rock band from Quebec that formed as a side project from 3 members of the band Southern Cross. They’ve added a fourth member since the recording of this debut album, “Flies in Amber Stones.” I will admit that I know OF Southern Cross, though I have never heard them. I think that’s actually better since it keeps me from comparing the two bands.
What about Hillward? Well, I have good news and bad news. After a few days of listening to this album, it was very obvious what I liked about “Flies in Amber Stones” and what I didn’t like. What do I like? The songs are all great, well written songs. VERY strong, tight arrangements and catchy as hell. All 3 musicians are great players. They have an obvious chemistry between them. I also love the use of keyboards to fill in the spaces on all of the songs as well.
The bad news? First off, the mix is way too claustrophobic. I don’t mind having all the instruments way up front on the mellower tracks like “One Goodbye” or “Walls of Apathy.” And the mix is just right on the closing track “The End of Logic” with the lead guitar just back enough to be above the rest of the music appropriately. Unfortunately, often everything is way up front and without an reverb on the drums, the heavier moments on the album like the instrumental “Quantify the Abstract” or when things kick in on tracks like the title track or “Alive,” it has no teeth. Heavy parts need some weight to them, some thickness. Drummer Antoine Guertin is really good but it can be hard to tell since without any reverb on them, they sound flat and don’t stand out as much as I would like.
Then we have lead vocalist David Lizotte, who can sing but just doesn’t have a voice dynamic enough for these great songs. He would make a solid second vocalist or back up vocalist but his voice is a bit too “polite” and his falsetto seems like it’s out of necessity rather than design. Just not into his tone, especially on the lower end.
The proof comes when guest vocalist Melanie Gagné shows up on “Walls of Apathy.” She has a dynamic voice that just reinforced what I was thinking up til this point of the album. Would she do well on heavier stuff? Not sure of that but she does really well on this softer track.
The bottom line is that you cannot discount how great the songs are. I think the band are great writers and performers. Unfortunately, the mix does the songs no real favors and yes I know David did the mix. So yes I have basically insulted him twice here. He is an amazing guitarist so let’s keep that in mind. I do think that many people will actually love both his very sweet voice and the “immediate” mix. Fans of melodic, modern prog should give “Flies in Amber Stones” a listen.
1. Flies In Amber Stones
3. One Goodbye
4. The Missing Link
6. When It All Comes True
8. Quantify The Abstract
9. Walls Of Apathy
10.The End Of Logic