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Heaviness Isn't Everything - 40%

Xpyro125, May 9th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2019, Digital, Nuclear Blast

CyHra is a band that, when I discovered them mere months after their debut album came out, I pretty much instantly fell in love with. Make no mistake, they're much more like Amaranthe than they are like In Flames, though their first album quickly became what may very well be my favorite album until I listened to Disarmonia Mundi's debut album. If you're going in expecting something like In Flames, you're delusional, and you will be incredibly disappointed. The lineup should say it all, Jake E is the vocalist, you're not getting anything close to death metal out of him. I wouldn't say that their sophomore album is horrible, but it really isn't memorable either, and I consider a huge sophomore slump overall. However, I do get why it was made the way it was: Letters to Myself didn't exactly have too many songs that fit live venues- most of the tracks were lighter and more emotional. Unfortunately, I'd still say that this won't hold up nearly as well as Letters to Myself, or even future albums (potentially speaking, of course).

The vocals are what you'd expect from Jake E, no better nor no worse than previous efforts. You hear a bit of the lower parts of his range on this album, which is nice, but there's nothing to note otherwise. Due to the nature of the songwriting of this album, it's more apparent that, yeah, his vocals could get grating after a while. The songwriting on Letters sort of made it a lot tougher for it to get to that point, since it was quite better and since there was more variety in its subtleties. Lyrically, I'd say this is absolutely inferior to Letters to Myself. While Letters to Myself was more about Jesper (And about Jake himself, to lesser extents, in songs such as "Closure"), Jake said in an interview that the lyrics of No Halos were more about himself. Aside from "Battle From Within", the lyrics don't strike much of a personal chord, with exception to "Hit Me", which I quite like lyrically, and "Man of Eternal Rain", which are lukewarm at best. "Lost in Time" attempts this, as the ballad of the album, but it just ends up landing as an awkward version of "Inside a Lullaby" from Letters. I just don't feel that the lyrics are as personal this time around. Jake also relies on a rhyme scheme much more this time compared to Letters, which can not only be a bit annoying to some, but it also limits how the lyrics are written at times, as there are a lot of nonsensical and forced lines. While this was something that felt very tongue-in-cheek in earlier Amaranthe albums since the intention was to make music that felt like a Hollywood B-Movie (Which I actually like the idea of, considering the execution), it absolutely flops here.

The guitarwork is heavier overall, though it's not really as memorable as in Letters. While Jesper did the majority of the songwriting for the guitars in Letters (And I believe Euge did some writing as well, though he only mentioned in small print in the album credits in Letters to Myself because of contractual obligations since he was still in Shining.), he and Euge had a near-equal share in writing duties this time around. There tend to be fewer pieces with that classic Gothenburg melodeath sound, though some moments *really* shine in that regard, and end up being the best parts of the album. Hell, you even get some acoustic bits every now and then, which sound wonderful. However, the biggest problem is that aside from these moments, a lot of the writing isn't anything great. It makes for a much more energetic and somewhat heavier album, so it all comes down to personal preference. For me, I'd say No Halos in Hell has vastly inferior guitarwork, and that's a shame since both guitarists here are fantastic and incredibly talented.

The keyboards work fine enough, there's nothing to say about them. They're used more as accents than main melodies, at least for the most part. They're not as excessive as in Amaranthe nor Reroute to Remain, but still moreso than in Come Clarity. As for the drums, they're still great. Alex Landenburg is a phenomenal drummer whose talents are understated in pretty much every discussion related to CyHra. If anything, he's stayed consistent with his contribution in Letters, which is the best thing I could say for any of the band members here. The bass sounds good too, not much to say there. There are a few moments were they really do utilize the bass well, such as the verses in "Bye Bye Forever", but that's about it. It seems like producer Jacob Hansen loves putting in one song where the bass is emphasized (Ex. "Lost Humanity" from Blood Stain Child's album, Amateras), and having it fuck off everywhere else. That's aggravating as all hell because it shows that, yeah, he *could* make it be that piece that completes each song, but he actively chooses not to.

The album opens up with "Out of My Life", which can be summarized as an inferior version of "Karma" in every way. Speaking of the songs...

While I love pretty much every song on Letters, just about half of them really stand out to me in No Halos in Hell. They're all at least passable, but that's just it. Most of them are just good, they don't have anything that elevates them to being great. There are a couple acoustic passages which sound beautiful, though they're used sparingly. It's a shame because they greatly enhance the songs. The entire midsection of the album from "Dreams Gone Wrong" to "Blood Brothers" is completely forgettable, and that's just horrible. I've already mentioned "Lost in Time", but... Just listen to "Inside a Lullaby", it's so much better. "Lost in Time" is easily the lowest point of the album, though at least it sticks out compared to around half of the album. The biggest problem with the songwriting is the one that plagues the album: Their heavier simply isn't heavy, and they compromised everything I loved about them for that. It's a total misfire, and the only thing that saves many of these songs is the energy they carry, similar to Soilwork's Figure Number Five. In a way, they've made arena rock/arena metal here that'll be great for live performances, and that's something that *should* be a positive. However, a lot of it simply isn't written that well. It felt like there was a lot of care and delicate touches placed into making Letters that just isn't here.

But to defend the album a bit, songs such as "I Am the One", "Bye Bye Forever", "Hit Me", and "Lies" are pretty damn good, and "Battle From Within" and "Man of Eternal Rain" are also good. "I Am the One" feels like the perfectly catchy arena metal song with a power metal flair to it, while "Lies" (Which I loved from the moment I saw a preview of the riff on Jesper's Instagram) is wonderfully melodic and has that intricacy and delicate care put into it that I love hearing from CyHra. Each element in it is very deliberate, and it's my favorite track off of the album (Yeah, bonus tracks!). "Hit Me" is a very guitar-driven song (Aside from the verses, which are carried by a nice piano), and it has a phenomenal solo that is quite Gothenburg-sounding.

"Bye Bye Forever" is perhaps the most unique track on the album. It's also very catchy, but that actually does work for it, rather than simply being the shallow selling point of the song. I'll make a very strange and not metal comparison here, and I hope it'll make sense: "Bye Bye Forever", lyrics and vocals aside, sounds like what would happen if Funhouse-"Raise Your Glass"-era P!nk tried making a metal song. Sure, that *really* isn't what you'd want to hear, and despite it being very pop metal-y, all of this works, and it may just be one of the most memorable songs in CyHra's discography. Give it a chance, and if you don't like it, that's fair enough.

Alright, personal paragraph incoming. This much is less about the music and more about my own feelings about the band and the album. Feel free to skip below for your standard summary stuff.

CyHra is a band who I've always loved, and prior to No Halos, I would have considered them one of my favorite bands. Letters to Myself is still one of my favorite albums (A bit less so for the music and moreso for the musicianship, if that makes sense). The lyrics were great (Some songs were better than others, with "Closure" being one of my favorite songs of all time), the music, while not that heavy, still sounded great, and Jake's vocals came through with the emotion necessary to really bring the best out of the lyrics. All of it was incredibly cohesive, and it made for a distinctive album which brought in the best of everyone in the (Dare I say it) supergroup. However, while I understand and agree with the band's intentions when making No Halos in Hell, they took away everything I loved about Letters and replaced it with... Nothing. Sure, I could say energy, but "Karma", "Heartrage", and the title track of Letters had that and more. While Letters was very personal and intricate, I just couldn't feel further from the band and music here. Yeah, CyHra's a band who you have to love and feel the love from- The music is the best at its most emotional and its most genuine. Many people, given the melodic metal sound, will immediately be turned off because of that, thus they never truly connect with the band, and end up getting nothing out of it. However, with No Halos, it feels like a complete and utter 180. I've done so much dissecting when it comes to Letters, and have even gotten to talk with some of the band members to get more insight out of it. When your listener's passion matches your own, that's when I feel you've truly succeeded as a musician and as an artist. With No Halos in Hell, I don't feel the passion for it that I do for Letters. It's one thing to expect The Jester Race II- That would've never happened just by seeing that Jake E is the vocalist for the band, and anyone who went into either album with such an expectation is a fucking idiot. However, I wanted to see something that reflects the musicianship and talent from everyone here, and No Halos in Hell just doesn't deliver on that front. As much as I really do want to defend CyHra, I can't here.

Neither the five of twelve tracks on the base version of the album nor six of eighteen tracks on the bonus edition is an acceptable ratio of enjoyable songs. 41% and 33% respectively are both failing grades, and unfortunately, the only song that I enjoy so much to the point where I bring the rating up is "Lies", which is a bonus track. Sparse moments in No Halos don't make up for the sum of the songs being mediocre. While there are some pretty good songs, only "Lies" reaches the lowest point of Letters. There is a severe quality difference between the band's two albums, and unfortunately, energy and a middling amount of heaviness just doesn't make for a good CyHra album. When I do inevitably review Letters, it'll have a much higher rating, and I'll go further into the differences of why it's so good. Unfortunately, No Halos gives me the opportunity to talk about the lows of CyHra, and it was my first showing of how a supergroup can somehow put out something mediocre which doesn't reflect the incredible talents of the members involved, and it ultimately killed so much of my hype for this band that I simply don't talk about them anymore. In fact, it took me probably a total of at least a half a month just to finally finish writing this review. I'm sure I'll gush over Letters when I get back to it, but I don't have anything good or bad that I can enjoy talking about on this album. No Halos in Hell is incredibly forgettable, and even though it has some good songs, they're overshadowed by better songs by the bands each member was in prior- And they're overshadowed by better songs from Letters To Myself. No Halos is, ultimately, the most disappointing album I've ever listened to, and I don't think there's anything worse for the band...

... And somehow, this album has been *revered* by basically everyone reviewing it, save for the two reviews on here, at least as far as I've seen. I just don't get it. Letters To Myself, a far superior album, raised so many questions and doubts, even on the video for "Karma", which is the closest they could ever get to what former In Flames fans wanted. And, well, the only Amaranthe fans who came over are the ones who weren't there for the shitshow of poppiness- The ones who don't praise Elize as some sort of goddess of a vocalist despite being outshined by at least twenty other women in big bands, both rock and metal. The Amaranthe fans who came over are the ones who genuinely do love Jake, and I don't think there were any sort of expectations to be met there. Then you have people who weren't huge fans of either band, and what they wanted varied greatly. Letters was incredibly divisive- You either loved it or you hated it, and both sides were completely understandable. I'd say that the beauty they weaved with Letters To Myself was wonderful, tackling addiction, the fallout of In Flames and Amaranthe with their two visionaries, the desperation for companionship when one feels alone, and more. The closest we get on No Halos is on "Battle For Within" and "Hit Me", which do strike similar introspective chords, and I really do believe that the band is at their best when they make these more introspective songs. No Halos in Hell has the very same flaws that Letters has, save for most of the songs being sort of ballads, and more- So many more. The flaws that it does have are far greater than the ones that Letters has. Frankly, it's very much the sort of overpolished, overdone, bland supergroup stuff that many people should hate. However, basically everyone who has heard No Halos loves it. It's so fucking baffling because this album, irrespective of Letters, just isn't good. I'd love to say it is, I love everyone involved, and I love CyHra's fanbase, but the album just isn't good, and I know that I'm right about that. It's frustrating to be in a minority about it. But maybe this is just because those who hated or had doubts about Letters just didn't come back for more. Who knows. Either way, this album is severely overrated, and the rating it has on here is the only one even close to being accurate that I've seen. It's a fucking shame because this album should've been so much more, and it completely killed my hype for CyHra. They achieved their goal, yes, but I hope they return to what made them so great when they do make their third album. I'm not exactly hopeful, but I'm willing to give them a chance.

Tracks to Recommend: "Lies", "Bye Bye Forever", "Hit Me", "I Am the One"
Tracks to Avoid: Every other song aside from "Battle From Within" and "Man of Eternal Rain". Those two are fine.

Edit: "Blood Brothers" is kinda cool instrumentally, but I wouldn't say that it warrants a score increase overall.
Edit 2: "Kings Tonight" is really catchy and is basically an Amaranthe song. I like it, but that doesn't make it good.