When We Are Death

Written by: AP on 22/03/2016 17:33:47

Most people recognise Finland as an important breeding ground for extreme metal, but with the growing popularity of Grave Pleasures (formerly known as Beastmilk) and Death Hawks, searchlights have begun to settle on another burgeoning scene, catering to a hipper audience. Under its umbrella, you will find genres such as psychedelic rock, neo-folk and post-punk in full flourish, curated, to some extent, by the ubiquitous Briton Mat ‘Kvohst’ McNerney, who sings for the aforementioned Grave Pleasures and, less prominently, also holds the role of frontman in Hexvessel. The shared vocalist aside, stylistically Hexvessel has had little in common with the standard fare post-punk professed by Grave Pleasures over the course of their three studio albums, carving out a rather more special, ‘psychedelic forest-folk’ niche with 2012’s “No Holier Temple”. And although this fourth outing “When We Are Death” ushers in some radical changes (including a slight influence of post-punk), it is refreshing to hear that McNerney still means to keep the two entities separate.

The dark and weird spools of engrossing, folksy psychedelia are at a premium now though, with a trippy 60’s, The Doors-y rock sound taking precedence — presumably for greater mainstream appeal. That much is clear from the groovy swagger of the opening duo “Transparent Eyeball” and “Earth Over Us”, which see swathes of Hammond organ by multi-instrumentalist Kimmo Helén mingle with sprawls of organic lead guitar work by Simo Kuosmanen; all in a simpler format, and with a much more upbeat tone and rhythm than was the case on those languid, hallucinatory jams found on “No Holier Temple”. Slow burn is still a thing, but songs like “Cosmic Truth” and “Teeth of the Mountain” assume a closer resemblance to Graveyard’s powerful balladry than to the wooded abstruseness of old, and while it is not as peculiar, the simplified approach allows the subtleties in Hexvessel’s music to come across with newfound clarity. Helén has more room to breathe now, and it is often his touches of keyboard, organ, trumpet and violin that give the music its cutting edge. The way those instruments are used in “Mirror Boy” to heighten McNernan’s moody singing precipitates one of the most unforgettable moments the record has to offer for instance, and “Earth Over Us” would not be half as brilliant were it not for the deftly interwoven keys and organ that seem to melt into Kuosmanen’s overdriven lead bits.

Still, for all of its standout moments, Hexvessel are unable to evade the fact that a lot of the tracks that comprise “When We Are Death” pass by rather anonymously, qualifying themselves as palatable yet failing to raise an eyebrow. It also speaks against the innovations here that a sizable portion of the album’s lasting value is produced by the picks that hark back to Hexvessel’s earlier work somewhat. The likes of “Green Gold”, slowly burning and mesmerising the listener with wrenching melancholia, sound significantly more striking than the regurgitated 60’s worship of, say, “When I’m Dead” or “Drugged Up on the Universe”. It has been done better by Wovenhand. Hexvessel’s magnetism has always been found in their knack for the evocative, the hypnotic; and while those elements remain involved, mostly they exist in a reduced role now. Thankfully, the positives on “When We Are Death” far outweigh its misfires, and as long as you are in acceptance of its inferiority to “No Holier Temple”, the record is actually a pretty gratifying listening experience.


Download: Earth Over Us, Cosmic Truth, Mirror Boy, Green Gold
For the fans of: The Doors, Grave Pleasures, Wovenhand
Listen: Facebook

Release date 22.01.2016
Century Media

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