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Donovan Melero can’t sit still. Since finding sobriety nine years ago, the vocalist and drummer for California-based progressive-rock band, Hail The Sun, has found himself constantly consumed with the idea of making the most of every day. Melero – along with bandmates Aric Garcia (guitar), John Stirrat (bass) and Shane Gann (guitar) – manage both the creative and business sides of Hail The Sun as they continue to grow into one of the most revered acts in their genre. Melero has also developed into one of the most respected booking agents in rock due to his incomparable work ethic. Somehow he even manages to find time to advance his side project, the progressive rock supergroup Sianvar, which has developed a sizeable cult following of its own. Still, he can’t seem to reach a level of success where he is satisfied with what he’s accomplished enough to take his foot off the gas – even for a second.
On Hail The Sun’s latest full-length, Mental Knife, Melero tackles that constant need for self improvement and his obsession with making up for lost time in a way that is both unabashedly honest and artistically innovative. The title of the record stems from the idea of cutting out those aspects of your life that don’t contribute to a more fulfilling existence. The subject matter largely centers on trying to develop a genuine confidence that allows you to acknowledge your own imperfections and provides the strength necessary to work towards correcting them.
Sonically, Mental Knife is the closest the band has come to realizing the sound they’ve sought since forming in 2009. Melero, along with guitarists Aric Garcia and Shane Gann who share songwriting duties, lived largely in the same creative space for this record as they did on its predecessors – Culture Scars (2016, Equal Vision Records) and the Secret Wars EP (2017, Equal Vision Records). However, all four members of the band have elevated their already impressive style of play on Mental Knife; pushing the limit of what is capable when walking the delicate line between intricate song arrangements and massive riffs and thundering rhythms.
The biggest difference between this record and the band’s previous releases is owed more to that development in terms of technical prowess and collaborative chemistry than a conscious shift in direction. To realize their vision, they worked with Beau Burchell, best known for his role as a member of Saosin and producing that project’s iconic Translating The Name full length which was a major influence on the members of Hail The Sun. Burchell served much in the way an editor works with a novelist; advising the band on areas that needed a bit more work to realize each song’s full potential. As Melero points out “it was the first time we ever left the studio each day with homework”, which could be new guitar riffs in a certain spot or finding a way to layer a bridge to really make it explode.
The result is an album that slams harder than Hail The Sun’s previous work. The performances and recording quality on Mental Knife reach a level the band has never achieved before. These upgrades allowed the band to construct the most “Hail The Sun” record possible. Mental Knife doesn’t reinvent the band’s sound, but it does find a new and innovative way of delivering the message. On the lead single and title track, Melero directly addresses the record’s mission statement behind a wall of scorching guitars, visceral screams and driving percussion. “Suffocating Syndrome”, which is included on this year’s official Warped Tour compilation, imagines what a conversation with a god would be like over the sort of heavy ethereal soundscape that one would expect from such a weighted question. “The Strangers in Our Pictures” and “Glass Half Empty” explore elements of how Melero copes with the insatiable desire to be better that he’s developed in sobriety. The former addresses the remorse he still feels regarding how he treated himself and those people around him as an addict while the latter speaks to the double-edged sword of having an addictive personality – meaning that the same thing that brings you to your lowest points can also be responsible for your biggest accomplishments. Both tracks also happen to be among the album’s most innovative attempts at exploring alternative arrangements and stepping outside the band’s comfort zone.
As each day closes, Melero has gotten into the habit of asking himself “can I put my stamp on this day?”. It’s a reminder that every day is an opportunity to get closer to achieving your dreams. With their new record, Hail The Sun can proudly stamp their names on the album knowing that it is a tremendous step forward for the band on their creative journey. Mental Knife will be released September 28th on Equal Vision Records.