Most modern bands, especially those in infancy, often wear influences firmly on their sleeves. Whether or not this decision is indirect, the struggle doesn’t lie here, but in the challenge to shape these outside inspirations into something truly unique.
For HEISA, the Belgian self-described “loud-quiet-weird but catchy” trio, the point is moot. ‘Joni’, their debut full-length, deals in an atmospheric form of avant-garde math rock, taking cues from the likes of Battles, Tool, and Kylesa, to name but a few. While drawing from these creative springs is commendable, it’s nothing without the rare, expertly nuanced approach which the group exude.
Each track swells in mesmerising fashion, with layers of intricate and simultaneously minimalist guitar lines, intertwining with complex and off-kilter rhythmic drum patterns. Things can sway from subtle to bewildering in a split second, with the gradual noodling build-up of album highlight ‘Break’ being very reminiscent of ‘Tonto’ from the groundbreaking Battles debut, ‘Mirrored’.
Coalescing seamlessly with the ever-expanding, tension building instrumentals are the vocals of Jacques Nomdefamille, which imbue the material with an increasing sense of shrill, chaotic abandon, equal parts triumphant and unhinged. Rather than lead the charge, the vocals are absorbed deep into the mix, being swallowed by ensuing waves of perplexing grooves and time signatures.
It all comes together in a dizzying and frankly unstable formula, with tracks mutating from the frightening noise rock slow-burn of ‘For Ours’, to the serene journey through ‘Keep It’; a beautifully crafted ethereal piece which steadily descends into bombastic, brazen cacophony.
As a three-piece, the sheer sound HEISA conjure up is astonishing. It’s precise, messy, melodic, catchy, endearing, and disturbing, all often within the confines of four to five minutes. For an overstuffed genre with so many sub-categories, it’s rare and refreshing to find a relatively new band approach their first full-length with such sheer vision and finesse.
Not only is this an instantly memorable, demanding, and ultimately rewarding listen, it’s also the most danceable noise/math/post/grunge album in at least a decade. Beautiful, aggressive, ambient, subtle and cataclysmic, ‘Joni’ is a phenomenal and essentially perfect debut. Not content to merely drop a very realistic contender for album of the year, HEISA have set a new precedent for what a band can musically accomplish from the starting point.