The new album from Hillar Parbo's new project The Iron Sentinel is no doubt a sensational drop in the ocean ahead of where this talented artist will head next in his musical journey.
The sole project of the ambitious and undeniably talented Melbourne-based mastermind Hillar Parbo, The Iron Sentinel is taking listeners on a boundless journey with his debut album, Dreams, released back in October 2021.
Sitting somewhere within the Aussie alternative rock, progressive rock spectrum, Parbo is forging his unique musical path with The Iron Sentinel, delivering compellingly and irresistible instrumentation and demeanour within the debut release, blurring the line between man and machine.
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Bolstered with incredible experimental flare, The Iron Sentinel was spawned as a necessary outlet of creativity, pooling Parbo’s past experiences and influences into an entirely solo project – one without any limitations.
“The Iron Sentinel is an entirely solo project, including all instruments, recording and production. Although I’ve been playing in bands all of my life, I had a sudden intense urge to make my own music, and I felt like it was the perfect time to explore my creativity in an environment where I didn’t have to rely on others,” Parbo explains.
“I spent a few years teaching myself production, re-learning keyboards, getting back into playing the drums, and thankfully found my voice and lots of enjoyment in the process. Creating this solo project was more of a necessity than an experiment – I needed to keep on making and playing music, and wanted to push the boundaries of what is possible to do in a live music setting on your own.”
A passionate multi-instrumentalist overflowing with ideas, much credit can be given to Parbo’s upbringing by touring musicians as parents, instilling a love of music and freedom of expression from a young age.
“There was a “music room” in our house where there was a full PA system and drums permanently set up, and I was encouraged to use it any time and to just experiment – yes, even midnight was fine.
“I became obsessed with playing bass when I was 12 after hearing “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, and worked my way through Black Sabbath and 70’s jazz fusion bands from there, learning piano, drums and singing along the way. Music has always been a very important part of my life and hopefully will continue to be forever.
“It’s the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted to do in my life.”
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With Dreams, Parbo is finally putting his considerable songwriting, instrumental and production chops on full display across the course of eight tracks and 36 minutes of music. Boasting a modern twist on progressive and alternative rock, Parbo seamlessly fuses analog synths, powerful drums, heavy bass and hauntingly unique vocals to create a genre-transfiguring live musical act.
‘Razor Wind’ kick starts the album with transcending, endearing tones and slowly-building melody-heavy sounds and it’s not until three minutes in that you’re introduced to the commanding eccentric vocal presence of Parbo, setting the stage of what’s to come impressively.
It’s clear from the opening track the synths, bass and drums are in a league of their own, but it’s the tone and delivery that Parbo possesses that gives The Iron Sentinel a significant edge and helps bring the pieces to life with his deep, emotive range, perfectly accompanying the chilled atmospherics.
“They [vocals] aren’t very conventional but I enjoy how they sound. I’ve always approached singing as another instrument, so creating interesting rhythms and having the raw feeling come through is always the most important factor for me.”
An incredibly powerful and raw journey through the full musical spectrum, the album continues through with impressive riffs, intricate melodies, trance-like complex rhythms and heartfelt lyricism in a way that feels both incredibly intimate while still providing a huge sound.
Across the eight tracks, there are moments of maximum intensity and aggression contrasted by lulled, contemplative passages and beautiful respites, all intricately woven together in a unique genre-bending experience.
“It’s definitely a wild ride, and will inevitably broaden your musical horizons. There are so many interesting little musical nuggets in there for those with keen ears, and plenty of interesting rhythmic parts that will get a double-take out of the most seasoned musos.”
From the chaotic and unnatural drum work in ‘Origin’ and the woozy ambience and lulling riffs of ‘All Can Be Done’, to the futuristic soundscapes of ‘GADD’ and the synth-heavy chill of closing track ‘Relief’, Parbo uses an assortment of stimulating instrumental mastery to explores a journey through immense trauma and difficulties. Entirely powerful, the album in its entirety is about blazing one’s path through emotional pain instead of succumbing to it, and empowering those who have been abused.
“It’s a big “fuck you, I choose to give love out to the universe and show people the path, despite having been through hell”. I often think of it as akin to “riding the tiger’s head” – it’s better to hold on to the reins tightly and face whatever demons you have than to perish quietly.
“Many tracks confront this directly, and the album intentionally finishes with a beautiful solo synth track to show you the bliss that awaits when you finally get to a place of healing and peace.”
Packed with unique, trance-inducing sounds and a penchant for majestic agony, the album was notably made to be able to reproduce it as-is in a live setting, captivating audiences with the originality of his sound and intensity of a one-man live show.
“I always found myself a little let down when you go to see a band and there are a lot of instruments/parts missing. I wanted the show to be exactly like the record, and thankfully after much playing around with different set-ups I’ve been able to reproduce it all live on my own – playing synths, singing and simultaneously triggering sounds manually with an SPD-SX sample pad,” he explains.
“It’s incredibly difficult to do all at the same time but I’m very much the sort of person who enjoys the challenge and having to turn your brain up to 100% to pull it off. It’s an incredibly unique show if you want a different and rich musical experience, and I hope that when people see it’s possible to do it, they’re similarly empowered to pursue their paths and take creative risks.
Drawing on a mass of varied and vibrant influences, from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queens of the Stone Age, and Muse to Bjork, Jeff Buckley, Karnivool and Grizzly Bear, Parbo delivers a vision that is pure and unrestrained by musical conformity.
Fusing exemplary, technically sound musicianship with precisely executed metal riffs and in-depth, mature writing, the album didn’t come without its challenges, fuelled by the lonely nature of any entirely self-produced solo project.
“Many, many self-doubt riddled nights of trial and error were commonplace, and it came together through sheer force of will and just sitting down and doing the work regardless of how I felt. When you don’t have anybody to bounce ideas off or to jam with, it becomes quite a lonely process, and I’m honestly shocked that I managed to stick it out.
“There were many times I wanted to throw in the towel, but I’m glad I didn’t – I’m quite proud of it and I still love every single song. It has given me the confidence and self-reliance I’ve always dreamed of having.”
This is an album you need to experience for yourself to understand just how rich and intricate the arrangements are, offering up so much beyond its initial prog-rock surface for those willing to dive deeper.
Despite being his first release, it’s abundantly clear that The Iron Sentinel truly explores every corner of Parbo’s capabilities, flitting between genres, influences and temporal constraints effortlessly while still retaining a true core sound that feels effortless to listen to.