Haiduk, or The Haiduks as my mp3 program automatically labelled them - a gross mistake in every way based on the actual band name and the plurality (Haiduk is a one man band) - is a one man project out of Calgary which calls itself a death / thrash band but which sounds like neither but reminds me mostly of Kataklysm in a melodic sense. Aesthetically, there is a lot here in common with black metal. The cartoonish album art bears resemblance to the dusty and occult covers in the genre, but the symbols which represent each song on the album remind me less of runes and more of the icons representing building options in Populous: The Beginning. Still, the layout and effort is well done here with a nice eight page booklet and a host of reading material dealing with magic and occult topics and stuff. Musically, Haiduk still deals with issues of identity in bringing this side of the band to the auditory altar. On a less aesthetic note, the music on Spellbook suffers from what I would describe as a lack of additional input. As a one man band, self-critique is almost more important than production and while the production on the release isn't bad, the music lacks something that at minimum a second mind could provide. There isn't a lot of nuance or depth to these tracks for all the twisty riffs and technical playing.
Take for example opening track "Lich" which rummages around with a few riff ideas for a period of just under a minute before Haiduk's sole proprietor Luka Milojica pushes out some death metal vocals. The opening riffs make appearances throughout the track in the exact same configuration and manner. There are no real variations on anything and nothing is used to elevate the riffs to a higher plateau of composition. Second track "Stormcall" improves slightly as evidenced by the verse riffs utilizing more variations and two separate phrasings but lack of differentiation is one of Haiduk's biggest problems on the disc. Sure, there are lots of little nifty noodles and frills which technically make the tracks different. Even with that though, there are a lot of similar melodies, riff structures and textures throughout the release. Even the drumming - programmed - is often reminiscent of itself throughout the album instead of being creative and unique. Many tracks use the same thrashy drum patterns which lose their effect due to the lack of dynamics which are usually the major problem with artificial drums. Sometimes the drum patterns are flat out strange - like an over usage of the splash in some songs.
I don't want to say all is bad here though. One of Haiduk's strongest attributes is Luka's guitar playing and intricacies. The guy is a good guitarist and writes some interesting riff ideas. He's got pretty nimble fingers for a dude that wears a black curtain all the time. A track like "Forcefield" shows his ability fairly well with a lot of tricky riffs full of hammer-ons and pull-offs. In a track like "Hex" which happens to be my favorite on the album, Luka shows he can craft some interesting thrashy melodic death metal. Hex is one of the few songs which seems to have it's own character on the release and lets go of some of the technical mumbo-jumbo at times. Luka's voice isn't bad either on the tracks where there are vocals. For Luka to really take Haiduk that next step into being a really excellent project - which I think isn't far fetched - he would have to work on pacing and making sure each track has standout moments. I'd like to see more song variety. Luka already has a pretty unique riff-writing style so incorporating some slower moments, some different arrangements and compositional techniques would emphasize the better aspects of Haiduk.
Spellbook, for me, doesn't really quite achieve what Luka was aiming for. With the bio sheet describing that Haiduk "is a direct channeling of haunting musical ideas... luring the listener towards themes of magic, evil, nature and myth" not once do I feel any of these makes a showing. Also stated was that Spellbook was "a black magic conjuring of fast guitars and powerful riff attacks summoning an atmosphere of true darkness." While the riffs are fast, there is very little atmosphere on the release. It's a rather clinical production. Also, because a lot of the riffs are so noodley, it's difficult to feel much power in them. I'm not really sure what kind of metal fan would really like this but if I had to guess, maybe someone just getting into more technical thrash would find the busy riffs but stable and tame underlying song structures appealing. Sometimes something can be so busy that it becomes boring.