Haunt – Mind Freeze (Shadow Kingdom Records)

Since launching Haunt in 2017, Trevor William Church hasn’t wasted any time in establishing his post-Beastmaker project as a major force in the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal (or whatever you want to call it) movement. Two EPs and two full-lengths – including last year’s scintillating If Icarus Could Fly – have led us to this point, where the Californians are grabbing coveted festival slots and gracing magazine covers. And while other musicians may have paused for breath, guitarist/vocalist Church – having cast off his Beastmaker shackles – clearly has a brain bubbling over with ideas… and has the urge to turn them into reality tout suite.  

So here we are with Mind Freeze. The refined, sharp, NWOBHM-inspired songwriting that enriched If Icarus Could Fly and 2019’s Mosaic Vision EP is found in abundance. Church’s grasp of classic metal dynamics, coupled with his street smart, hard rocking suss, makes songs such as On The Stage sound absolutely triumphant. Twin guitar-powered riffs scorch their way across Fight Or Flight and Have No Fear. John Tucker – now handling most of the leads for Haunt – sets his frets ablaze with one startling solo after another. It’s heavy metal dreamland.

So what’s changed – apart from Tucker revealing more if his talents? Keyboards. And we’re not talking techno stabs or symphonic metal bombast. Nope, Church has taken in his interest in 80s synth and deftly weaved it into Mind Freeze. It’s not overwhelming or overbearing. It doesn’t detract from the crackling riffery. It’s a light touch approach, which gives the likes of Hearts On Fire a fascinating extra dimension, while driving a sonic pulse through Saviours Of Man. For some fans, it will take a little getting used to – but it’s worth it.

And to some extent, this is a more subtle album than its predecessors.  For instance, Run And Hide, If Icarus Could Fly’s opener, was a headlong charge into the heart of the sun, conducted at a galloping pace. In contrast, Mind Freeze is introduced with the touching, mid-paced Light The Beacon, which puts more emphasis on Church’s vocal melodies and poignant, heartfelt lyrics. The title track is in a similar vein.

What’s certainly not changed, however, is Haunt’s place as one of metal’s most exciting emerging acts. And you’ll surely be hearing a lot more from them as the 20s roar on.