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  • Writer's pictureSTJERNEFØDT

House of Harm - Playground (The Overlook Review)

Updated: Jul 7

This review is part of a series focusing on exceptional, and potentially overlooked, albums released during the last couple of years. These are being singled out to draw attention to releases that seem to be discussed less frequently than they deserve. For an album to be reviewed in this segment, it must have been released 6 months to 3 years ago by an act that hasn't performed at Dark Force Fest (since we're based in the east and many of our readers likely attend the event).

My first experience with House of Harm was a few years ago, stumbling across their song "Valentine" while searching for an appropriate score to celebrate Lupercalia. While not exactly fitting the correct mood for that event, I was nonetheless enthralled by the dreamlike, synth-heavy atmosphere that they so effortlessly created.Fast-forward a few years, skipping by the exceptional album 'Vicious Pastimes' (which I hope to return to for a full review in the future), and we reach their most recent release, 'Playground'. In the lead-up to the release, two singles were released; "Roseglass" and "Two Kinds".

"Roseglass" is a strong choice for a lead-in single and certainly a highlight of the album. It takes the post-punk/darkwave leanings of the prior album and infuses the pre-existing sense of melancholy and

lush synths with a degree of restraint, allowing the song to breathe and grow. Moments are reminiscent of New Order and mid-80s Depeche Mode, without ever veering into the territory of style parody.

The second pre-release single, "Two Kinds", follows in kind with lush textures and a driving rhythm, this time reminiscent more of The Cure or The Church. The vocals this time are a bit more empassioned and are the clear leading force of the song. This took a little longer to grow on me than "Roseglass", but it has since come to be one of my most beloved songs released in 2023.

A few weeks later, the album proper dropped. Beyond the singles, I found some of the standout tracks to be the album opener, "Before the Line" (which has a guitar and bassline that I found reminiscent of Paradise Lost's 'Draconian Times', particularly echoing "Yearn for Change" in my mind), along with mid-album highlights "Soaked in Pastel" and "Endlessly", the latter of which is an uptempo, synthetic, and comparatively sparse arrangement that picks up the energy halfway through the album.

While I don't find that this album packs the same immediate punch as its predecessor, I do think it is of equal quality. While it strikes some of the same chords, the band does a great job of iterating on their core concepts without repeating any of the precise details that made 'Viscious Pastimes' special. It meanders and and gets lost in thoughts and memories, but it does so within a consistent framework, as if it is reminding itself from time to time that it needs to be somewhere in order to keep itself from overstaying it's welcome.

As a whole, House of Harm are a great example of what our modern darkwave scene does b

est; they take familiar concepts and sounds from the past and combine them in new ways. They never sound exactly like "Band x" and they never have a moment where you can say one song is an exact copy of another song. This may sound like a relatively mundane and obvious statement, but we sometimes take these things for granted within the modern darkwave/goth scene. Many of our new genre heroes have a knack for expanding on existing concepts that may have been dropped with the passage of decades, rather than just returning to the accolades of their forebears and tracing them as closely as possible. Many other "genre revival" scenes tend to function this way, and typically burn out within a few years

because of this. We, instead, are able to benefit from acts like House of Harm, Cruex Lies, and Rosegarden Funeral Party who are able to energize and invigorate in new and familiar ways.

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