Huntsmen in a gothic living room
Credit: Aaron Ehinger

Huntsmen’s distinctive, delicious sound mixes turbocharged gothic country with sophisticated, dynamic doom metal wrapped in horror-tinged Americana atmospheres. Following two EPs, 2014’s Post War and 2016’s The Colonel, the Chicago band received rave reviews for their 2018 debut full-length, American Scrap. Their epic 80-minute concept album Mandala of Fear, about a battle-scarred veteran trying to survive a hostile post-apocalyptic world, was one of my favorite albums of 2020: it feels like a mural painted in brushstrokes of many different textures, or a novel that changes in style and tone as its story unfolds. The pandemic cheated Huntsmen out of the chance to properly tour behind Mandala of Fear (not to mention a show opening for Om and Wovenhand at Garfield Park Conservatory that would’ve been awesome), and it’s one of countless works from that long stretch of venue closures and disrupted lives that deserves a renewed listen as artists come out of their plague cocoons like wary butterflies. Last spring, the band marked the first anniversary of Mandala of Fear by releasing a play-through video of the majestic and moody “Bone Cathedral.” It’s a delight to watch them work, and their COVID masks firmly place the footage in time. Huntsmen also managed to play a few local shows during the viral lull in fall and early winter 2021, which may have helped them win “best metal band” in the Reader’s 2021 Best of Chicago poll. 

If Mandala of Fear is a hefty, stomach-stretching feast, then Huntsmen’s new EP, The Dying Pines, is more like a midnight snack. Many have noted a Neil Young influence in the band’s style of storytelling (particularly from his heavier, more elegiac narratives, such as “Powderfinger” and “Cortez the Killer”), and here they lean into it with a cover of CSNY’s “Carry On.” The EP also includes two new songs: the title track is an eerie acoustic ballad, while “Let the Buried Lie Forgotten” is a procession of slow-burning heavy riffs. This hometown release show falls on the eve of Huntsmen’s European tour—Lord willing and the variants don’t rise, on April 24 they’ll play American Scrap in its entirety at Roadburn, the Netherlands’ premiere heavy-music festival (the album is getting a deluxe vinyl reissue for the occasion).

Huntsmen, Sweet Cobra, opener TBA, Sat 4/9, 8:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, $12, $10 in advance, 21+