Mat McNerney & Kimmo Helén of Hexvessel to Release A Fire in the Cold Season Soundtrack

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 22nd, 2021 by JJ Koczan

Neither Mat McNerney nor Kimmo Helén has anything to prove in terms of atmosphere building. The two are bandmates in Hexvessel and have a number of other projects going at any given moment, so a film soundtrack feels like an organic-enough extension of what they’ve done in the past to make sense. You’ll note the director here is Justin Oakey as well, with whom the pair has worked before in and out of the context of Hexvessel and who has helmed videos in the past as well for Ulver, Godstopper and others. A Fire in the Cold Season is Oakey‘s second feature film behind 2016’s Riverhead, and it was nominated in 2019 for a Canadian Screen Award in best cinematography, which, you know, feather in the cap and all that.

Svart Records will release the soundtrack to the film in October, and there’s a snippet up now. I don’t know if the movie is on — INSERT SERVICE HERE — at the moment or not, but if you made it this far into the bowels of the internet you’re obviously a resourceful sort and I’m sure you can figure out a way to see the thing. I think I might try to chase it down as well. Maybe my Netflix is up to date? I don’t know.

In any case, prepare thyself for minimalism on signed vinyl!

From the PR wire:

mat mcnerney and kimmo helen a fire in the cold season

A Fire In The Cold Season Original Soundtrack – Mat McNerney & Kimmo Helén

A Fire In The Cold Season, soundtrack to rural noir thriller from Newfoundland, Canada, scored by Mat McNerney and Kimmo Helén of the Finnish folk band Hexvessel.

McNerney (Hexvessel, Beastmilk, Grave Pleasures, Carpenter Brut, Me & That Man, ex-Code, ex-DHG) and multi-instrumentalist Helén have collaborated with director Justin Oakey before on a short film, but A Fire In The Cold Season marks their first full feature length soundtrack composition; a wild and evocative cross-pollination of Finnish and Newfoundland spirit. A Fire In The Cold Season is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s western narratives (No Country for Old Men, The Road, Blood Meridian, The Counselor), with a realistic, heavy paced mood where nothing is certain but the promise of despair in a violent world. McNerney and Helén’s soundtrack is signature ritualistic Hexvessel, straining violins and rustic guitars, but also a new and mature flourish of restraint and minimalist beauty where disparate piano and solemn voices echo through the wilderness.

Inspired by Newfoundland folk music, Philipp Glass, Shigeru Umebayashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto, A Fire In The Cold Season is an elegant, romantic and suspenseful score which is as much a homage to the harsh and stunning nature witnessed in Oakey’s visual landscape as Hexvessel’s inherent nature mystic themes. Fans of Hexvessel’s work will find much to delight in A Fire In The Cold Season’s occult and noirish atmospheres, and new-comers to McNerney and Helén’s work will enjoy being transported from shamanic transcendence to heart-aching romantic mountain melancholy. With an international premiere of A Fire in a Cold Season in Iceland, nominated for a Canadian Screen Award and featured on Netflix internationally, McNerney and Helén creep out from outsider fringes of their humble underground origins to show their looming talents for commanding a vastly evocative and haunting cinematic story.

Released on vinyl in an exclusive run of 250 limited edition signed black LPs and digitally everywhere from 22nd of October 2021.

https://www.facebook.com/hexvessel
http://instagram.com/hexvesselband
https://hexvessel.bandcamp.com/
https://www.hexvessel.com/
www.svartrecords.com
www.facebook.com/svartrecords

Mat McNerney & Kimmo Helén, “Romance of Mystery” official video

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Roadburn Announces ‘Roadburn Redux’ 2021 Programming Series

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 4th, 2021 by JJ Koczan

roadburn redux banner resized

Well, here we are. You knew Roadburn Festival wasn’t going to let 2021 pass without cooking up something special, and you knew that something special wasn’t going to be an actual four-or-five-day, go-to-it-in-person fest. So here comes Roadburn Redux, which kind of sounds to me like they’re inventing the Roadburn Channel with a ton of exclusive performances, streams, full-albums and the like. It of course seems like a massive undertaking, and though you’re watching it from your couch instead of from in front of the stage at the 013 in Tilburg, somehow Roadburn has still managed to be completely overwhelming. Heartfelt kudos on that.

This is the first I’m seeing of this lineup, so don’t think I have any insider information on this at all. I don’t know what the status of the Roadburn ‘zine, the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch, might be. I had heard they wanted to do one, but that was a while back and I think before this actually started to come together. When/if I hear something in that regard, I’ll let you know, but frankly, it looks like they have enough on their plate without. Call me crazy.

Me? Looking forward to all the Svart stuff. New band Dust Mountain, Hexvessel doing Dawnbreaker, Polymoon. Sounds good to me. Otherwise it’s Roadburn being Roadburn: delightfully weird, loaded with exclusives, forward-thinking and on a level of its own.

Here’s the info from the PR wire:

ROADBURN REDUX: Redefining heaviness with exclusive performances and premieres – wherever you are in the world.

Roadburn 2021 will be taking place in an unfamiliar format, but will retain the hallmarks of what makes the usual editions a must-attend event for fans of heavy music around the globe. This online version of the festival, titled Roadburn Redux, will feature performances broadcast live from the 013 venue in Tilburg, as well as pre-recorded and exclusive content, and will take place between April 16-18. Despite these new obstacles, Roadburn will showcase the very best of cutting edge performances, and highlight the most innovative and engaging artists in the Roadburn universe; everything available to access as part of Roadburn Redux will be exclusive – either a commissioned project or a premiere. The poster artwork for Roadburn Redux is by Lucile Lejoly.

A series of performances due to take place at the 013 venue have been confirmed – see below for more information – which will be broadcast live via a specially designed website featuring a live blog with a continuous stream of content. Alongside those transmissions from Tilburg, Roadburn will host exclusive content from a variety of artists, including further commissioned work and exclusive performances.

Roadburn’s artistic director, Walter Hoeijmakers, comments: “The last year has been incredibly difficult for everybody to navigate; keeping safe is paramount, but it often came at the expense of the ‘normal’ life we’d come to enjoy. For us, that meant a halt to Roadburn as we knew it. However, Roadburn Redux gives us the opportunity to reconnect with the artists and community that are at the heart of Roadburn; to bring a bit of joy, friendship, inspiration, and most of all hope in these difficult times. I’m thrilled by the performances we’ve already secured – the format might be different, but the spirit of Roadburn remains strong.”

Roadburn Redux has been made possible due to the support from Brabant C, Gemeente Tilburg, Fonds Podiumkunsten, Provincie Noord-Brabant, Bavaria 8.6, Ticket to Tilburg.

BROADCAST LIVE FROM THE 013 – COMMISSIONED PROJECTS

DEAD NEANDERTHALS PERFORMING IXXO
With the irrepressible duo bursting at the seams with creative ideas, we knew they’d be perfect candidates for one of the all new commissioned projects for Roadburn 2021. At the time of writing this, the project is still being developed but already has us hooked, keen to find out exactly what’s in store come April. Otto and René have teamed up with Dutch singer/songwriter Aafke Romeijn, and Jonge Woudloper, one of the musicians in Aafke’s band, to create IXXO.

DIE WILDE JAGD PERFORMING ATEM
Injecting some much needed freshness into what can sometimes be a stagnant scene, Die Wilde Jagd can reasonably be described as experimental at any given time – their heady blend of psychedelic electronic-rock futurism is intoxicating – but under the banner of a Roadburn commissioned project christened Atem, experimentation has truly run wild.

DIRK SERRIES PERFORMING EPITAPH
For this special Roadburn performance, Roadburn regular, Dirk Serries will be creating and improvising alongside Tom Malmendier on drums and Rutger Zuydervelt on electronics. Having already collaborated with both previously, but never in this exact configuration, we’re sure to be in for a treat.

GOLD PERFORMING THIS SHAME SHOULD NOT BE MINE
Having long been fans of their output, and knowing that they were the sort of artists that could take an idea and run with it, we were also convinced that they would relish the task of creating a commissioned piece for Roadburn Festival. Due to social restrictions, the core writing duo of Thomas and Milena commenced the writing for this project at home; the performance will feature the full GOLD line up as the debut this cathartic and bold creation.

JO QUAIL PERFORMING THE CARTOGRAPHER
Jo Quail performing The Cartographer is the only commissioned piece from 2020’s Roadburn line up to be carried over into 2021. Jo’s intention is to explore heaviness and to focus on exploring the juxtaposition between classical and more contemporary music, in this case post-metal. Jo will join forces with Rotterdam’s highly regarded New Trombone Collective – a group of trombonists who pride themselves on innovation, creativity and collaboration – to work towards communicating specific feelings through their combined output.

NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM PERFORMING SET CHAOS TO THE HEART OF THE MOON
If you’ve already experienced something of Neptunian Maximalism, you’ll already know that the best way to listen to them is to give yourself over completely. For the uninitiated it’s time to shake off your inhibitions and let loose! For this performance commissioned by Roadburn, they will explore their 2020 album, Éons, in a completely new way.

OF BLOOD AND MERCURY PERFORMING THE OTHER SIDE OF DEATH
Of Blood and Mercury will perform a commissioned piece called The Other Side of Death, a soundtrack that will move us through the first moments of after-life. They promise that our earthly perception of time, space, sound, and feeling will fall apart. Not fully here, nor there, nowhere and everywhere; the lie about death is the beginning of the lie about life.

RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON PERFORMING THUS SPOKE THE BEHOLDER
They say that good things come in threes – and 2021 will mark the third Roadburn appearance for Dutch experimentalists, Radar Men From The Moon. The Eindhoven-based space-travellers will descend on Tilburg for a special performance of a commissioned piece they have titled Thus Spoke The Beholder. Having always embraced evolution within the fuzzed-out confines of RMFTM, this six-piece have taken on the task with relish.

SOLAR TEMPLE PERFORMING THE GREAT STAR ABOVE PROVIDES
Lurking in some of the darkest corners of the Dutch black metal scene we found Solar Temple – an entirely studio-focussed duo featuring members of Fluisteraars and Turia – and couldn’t resist tempting them out into the bright lights for this very special edition of Roadburn. Marking their first ever live performance, this commissioned project is the next step in the band’s evolution.

TDC INC. PERFORMING CORPORATE
With time it was inevitable that both PRSPCT and Roadburn would come together, as we share a kindred anti-authoritarian spirit while defying musical borders as well. Most of us will have to wait for another time for a face to face experience of their head on collision of old school drum and bass, electronic violence and black metal. However, as their asphyxiating maelstrom of bludgeoning beats, guitars and imagery is still very urgent, it prompted us to make sure that both the label and The Dead Cvlt are part of Roadburn Redux commissioned music projects, as we’re beyond intrigued to see and hear how the confinement of the pandemic has influenced their artistry.

THE NEST PERFORMING HER TRUE NATURE
The Nest is a collaboration between members of Wolvennest and some special – as yet unannounced – guests. Each individual participating retains their own signature sound and identity, but comes together to create something unified. This entirely original, commissioned performance will combine meditative, ritualistic elements with psychedelic sounds and blackened doom metal, as well as uniting a group of long-time friends on stage for the first time together in this constellation.

BROADCAST LIVE FROM THE 013 – ALBUM PREMIERES

AUTARKH PERFORMING FORM IN MOTION
Tilburg has cemented its importance for underground heavy bands with a steady trickle of innovative and compelling bands making their ways out into the wider world. The latest such band is Autarkh, who – we are delighted to announce – will be performing their debut album in full for us this April. Founding member of Dodecahedron, Michel Nienhuis, teamed up with producer Joris Bonis (Dodecahedron, Ulsect), guitarist David Luiten and electronic composer / producer Tijnn Verbruggen to create the oppressive, claustrophobic and totally exhilarating wild ride that is Form In Motion.

DIE WILDE JAGD PERFORMING HAUT
Having spent most of 2020 familiarising ourselves with the spacious, meditative, and yet still distinctly experimental beauty of Haut, we asked the mastermind behind Die Wilde Jagd, Sebastian Lee Philipp, who is joined on stage by Ran Levari on drums, if they’d consider playing the whole thing in full for us at Roadburn 2021. Fortunately for us – and for you – they agreed.

EMPTINESS PERFORMING VIDE
Back in 2017 Emptiness shrouded Het Patronaat with their tenebrous black metal atmospherics in such a way that a return visit was always going to be on the cards – just the when and where were in question. We’re delighted to announce that Emptiness will perform their sixth studio offering in its entirety at Roadburn in April, and no doubt leave us all questioning our version of reality. To listen to Vide on record is to let the rolling fog pin us down and envelop us, to witness it live may just consume us entirely.

PLAGUE ORGAN PERFORMING ORPHAN
The duo comprising of René Aquarius (Cryptae, Imperial Cult, Horrid Apparition, Imperial Cult, Dead Neanderthals, etc) and recording engineer Marlon Wolterink (White Noise Studio and one half of the band Meglamancha) is a black/death/noise amalgam that will give you nightmares for weeks to come. Their live debut was originally due to happen at Le Guess Who? Festival in 2020 so the legendary festival is collaborating with us to present this show as part of Roadburn Redux.

WOLVENNEST PERFORMING TEMPLE
Having conquered the main stage at Roadburn once, Wolvennest are returning to do the same this April, as they perform their brand new album, Temple, in full. Due for release in March, you’ll have just enough time to get acquainted with their latest missive before we’re well and truly sucked into their dark but strangely alluring netherworld.

ONLINE
The full online programme for Roadburn Redux will be announced in due course, but as a statement of intent and an indicator of the high quality performances that will be presented, we’re thrilled to confirm that as part of our pre-recorded exclusive content we’ll have…

THE SVART SESSIONS
Think The Old Grey Whistle Test on acid; imagine a Jools Holland psychedelic special and you’ll be heading in the right direction. The Svart Sessions will feature brand new signings and established artists side by side, all connected to the notoriously fertile psych rock scene in Tampere. These six performances truly encapsulate the very best of the Finnish heavy, psych and freak-folk underground scene – delivered right into your home this April. Read more about Roadburn and Svart here.

The Svart Sessions will feature:

DUST MOUNTAIN
(feat. members of Oranssi Pazuzu, Dark Buddha Rising, Death Hawks)
International live debut, performing songs from their forthcoming Svart Records debut.

HEXVESSEL PERFORMING DAWNBEARER
Hexvessel celebrate the 10 year anniversary of their debut record Dawnbearer, by performing the album in full, exclusively for Roadburn Festival 2021!

ITERUM NATA
Personal psychedelic occult folk created by Hexvessel lead guitarist Jesse Heikkinen, plays an intimate acoustic show of songs from his 2020 album Bardo Disorder, in his first live stream ever.

KAIRON; IRSE!
Kosmische post-rock prog-freaks Kairon; IRSE!’s first ever live stream video, as they play tracks from their critically acclaimed new album Polysomn in full.

POLYMOON
Young rising stars, present their six track psych prog explosion Caterpillars of Creation in its entirety exclusively for Roadburn Festival 2021!

A SECRET COLLABORATION…
A special and exciting collaboration between some highly revered members of the Finnish psych rock underground, with more details to be divulged at a later date!

TICKETS & INFO
Roadburn Redux is available to attend on a ‘pay what you like’ basis, from anywhere in the world. Head to RoadburnRedux.com to RSVP and bookmark the page.

https://www.roadburnredux.com/
https://www.facebook.com/events/1081424195382564/
https://www.facebook.com/roadburnfestival/
http://www.instagram.com/roadburnfest
http://www.roadburn.com

Polymoon, Caterpillars of Creation (2020)

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Hexvessel Announce Kindred LP out April 17 on Svart Records

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 16th, 2020 by JJ Koczan

Hexvessel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hexvessel releasing albums through Svart Records seems to me one of those correct-in-the-sense-of-things-being-right-with-the-universe scenarios. Aside from the fact that band and label are both based in Finland — neat, but not really relevant — it’s the progressive aspects of both that make their realignment seem so spot on. Hexvessel issued last year’s All Tree (review here) through Century Media and thereby marked a return to their core folk-minded approach after departing for the more stylistically experimental When We are Death (review here) in 2016. I would expect Kindred to keep them on their set path somewhat, but of course they’ve never failed to move forward from one record to the next, and the PR wire’s teasing of proggy flashes certainly sounds right on.

Svart will also reissue the first two Hexvessel LPs, which, as it happens, it originally put out. I bet that makes getting the rights easier.

Here’s news:

hexvessel kindred

Finland’s Hexvessel return to Svart Records with new album Kindred, set for release on the 17th of April 2020!

Cover artwork by renowned artists Thomas Hooper and Richey Beckett unveiled.

Back-catalogue to be reissued!

Psychedelic forest folk-rockers Hexvessel will release their new nature-mystic opus, Kindred, via Svart Records on the 17th of April 2020. Taking a darker and more esoteric path, Kindred sees Hexvessel re-forge their eclectic melting cauldron or “vessel” of sound into a potent “hex” of spell-binding songcraft.

Blues-laden psych-rock and progressive structures harken back to King Crimson, giving way to dark earthen balladry reminiscent of early Nick Cave and the doom-laden atmospheres of Dead Can Dance. The band returned to their original studio in Tampere, Finland, where they recorded their cult classic No Holier Temple, which fused Hexvessel’s folk roots with an occult undercurrent, with the new album mastered by John Davis (Gorillaz / Led Zeppelin / Lana Del Rey) in the UK.

Through Kindred’s 10 song rites of passage, Hexvessel cover Coil’s “Fire Of The Mind” live from a mental institution and delve into the Druidic sacrificial swamps with songs like “Bog Bodies”, which conjures the deep Lynchian night with muted trumpet and foggy rhodes piano. Adorned by cover artwork by artists Thomas Hooper (who has worked for Neurosis, Converge and Doomriders) and Richey Beckett (who has created work for Metallica, Foo Fighters, Robert Plant), Kindred is an album which calls you on a journey, both intimate and richly enlightening.

Hexvessel was formed by English/Irish singer/songwriter Mat McNerney in 2009 after he moved to Finland. Also know for his work with Beastmilk (now known as Grave Pleasures), The Deathtrip, Carpenter Brut, Me & That Man and his earlier work with Norwegian Black Metal bands Code & Dødheimsgard, McNerney is a both highly eclectic and critically acclaimed musical artist.

The first single from Kindred will be released on the 24th of January 2020.

In celebration of Hexvessel’s re-signing with the label, Svart Records will also reissue Hexvessel’s first two albums. Their much sought after debut Dawnbearer and the cult follow-up No Holier Temple will be repressed during autumn 2020.

Hexvessel’s upcoming live dates are as follows:
With Twin Temple (USA)

01.02.2020 – Hamburg (DE) – Bahnhof St Pauli
02.02.2020 – Gothenburg (SE) – Tradgarn
04.02.2020 – Tampere (FI) – Olympia
05.02.2020 – Helsinki (FI) – Tavastia
07.02.2020 – Stockholm (SE) – Nalen Klubb
08.02.2020 – Frederica (DK) – Det Bruunske Pakus *
09.02.2020 – Copenhagen (DK) – Beta *
10.02.2020 – Berlin (DE) – Bi Nuu
11.02.2020 – München (DE) – Backstage
12.02.2020 – Vienna (AT) – Arena *
13.02.2020 – Winterthur (CH) – Gaswerk
14.02.2020 – Cologne (DE) – MTC
15.02.2020 – Paris (FR) – Point Ephemere
16.02.2020 – Wacken (DE) – Wacken Winter Nights *
17.02.2020 – Nijmegen (NL) – Merleyn *
18.02.2020 – Rotterdam (NL) – V11 *
21.05.2020 – Ascension Festival Iceland*
11.07.2020 – Fire In The Mountains, Wyoming, USA*
(*without Twin Temple)

https://www.facebook.com/hexvessel
http://instagram.com/hexvesselband
https://hexvessel.bandcamp.com/
https://www.hexvessel.com/
www.svartrecords.com
www.facebook.com/svartrecords

Hexvessel, “Changeling” official video

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Live Review: HØSTSABBAT 2019 Night Two in Oslo, Norway, 10.05.19

Posted in Reviews on October 6th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2019 poster square

Before the Show

Festival mode. One day bleeds into the next, sometimes into the one after. You lose time to the timetable. Basic needs become a big deal. Water. Coffee. Advil. Comfy socks. Earplugs in the top pocket of your jeans so you can be quick on the draw in a sudden burst of volume. All this shit really starts to matter.

Which I guess is my way of saying I’m tense about the day soon to unfold, as well as exhausted from last night. I expect these two energies to cancel each other out and leave a remainder of self-loathing-fueled social awkwardness, which is the standard I generally set for myself.

There was an art talk in the crypt a bit ago, followed upstairs by a live-painting session by Linda K. Røed and Trine Grimm, set to a drone session by Highrule. Not something you see every day, so I wanted to be sure to see it.

And they were painting, and droning, respectively, and I decided that while they were creating, I’d go up the balcony and do a bit of writing, so that’s where I am. Here’s the view:

Live painting at Høstsabbat

It is a significant view, but it’s worth reemphasizing that this fest is about more than just the place. Last year it found its home in the Kulturkirken Jakob, and with that task behind it, it’s begun to explore further its own personality and the varying shapes it can take. The lineup for today, already under way, sort of, speaks to that, as does the growing visual side. I’d only expect the progression to continue.

First band on in half an hour downstairs. Easily time for another coffee beforehand.

After the Show

Definitely not the same sort of brain-surge as was the ending of last night, with Ufomammut reconfirming their galaxial supremacy, but more like a spiritual cleansing, like if you could actually catch your breath in one breath. That would be Colour Haze closing out Kulturkirken Jakob for the second and final night of Høstsabbat 2019.

By then, I and everyone else in attendance had been through a ringer of ups, downs and side-to-sides of style, eight bands between the two Kulturkirken stages, five more across the street at Verkstedet, and I know I didn’t see two bands play the same kind of sound today. Even the sludge bands were different enough to be called different. It was a little staggering.

But, if there’s ever a time for a blowout, it’s the last day of the fest, and Høstsabbat made the most of the opportunity confronting it. I’m sad to say that as I’ll be traveling tomorrow morning, the inevitabilities of returning to real life — much as I have one — were burrowing into my head by about the time the third band went on, but I knuckled down and let myself enjoy being here while I’m here. Have I mentioned how lucky I am to be here?

Good. Because that’s really the lesson of the weekend. Stupid lucky.

I seem to recall the day going something like this:

Dunbarrow

Dunbarrow (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Rest assured, it was just last year that Norwegian classic doomers Dunbarrow released their second album, II (review here) on RidingEasy. It only sounds like it was 45 years ago. Opening up the crypt stage, Dunbarrow delivered their set with an energy that reminded me of catching Brutus headlining in the same space last year, Dunbarrow‘s style is even more heavy ’70s in its focus. They represented their recorded work well in that way — it wasn’t like they got on stage and came across completely different, like their vintage aesthetic is all studio tricks or something like that. There’s a lot of First Daze Here-era Pentagram at play, as there inevitably would be, and they take cues from the same cues Witchcraft took therefrom, but part of the charm of seeing them was watching them bring that spirit to life, and they absolutely did that. It’s a sound that’s not based on being the loudest or the heaviest all the time, and it can be tricky for bands to pull it off and still convey some sense of vitality. Wasn’t a problem for Dunbarrow.

Hexvessel

Hexvessel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I know it’s trash-cliche, because experience is subjective and all that happy crap, but Hexvessel have the ability to move a room like few bands I’ve seen. As fate and silly-life would have it, this was my second time seeing them since the release of their back-to-ground forest folk fourth LP, All Tree (review here), behind a set this Spring at Roadburn (review here), and it’s proven true again that they’re absolutely transportive. The vocal harmonies, the rich arrangement elements, and now — thanks in no small part to the aesthetic sprawl of their third album, 2016’s When We are Death (review here) — the diversity of their atmospheres all come together to form a cohesive purpose. It’s a conversation and a going. Does it require some buy-in? For sure. What doesn’t? That’s where the sheer songwriting comes in, because no matter where Hexvessel might take you in a given track, record, set, etc., their method has an ultra-consistent level of craft behind it. Every melody is in its place, every swell and sway have their function toward the larger intent moving you. And so you end up in a different place than you were when they started. Every time.

Papir

Papir (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It’s a pretty good sign your lineup is absolutely bonkers when you’ve got bands like Hexvessel and Papir playing on the relatively early end of the day. I was way stoked, in the parlance of our times, to catch Papir‘s ultra-fluid instrumental jamming. They were one of the band I was most excited to see this weekend, there was zero disappointment once they got going. I was a little surprised at how mellow they weren’t. All things are relative — especially when Belzebong are shortly to hit stage upstairs and Slabdragger are next in the basement — but still, while of course they had their calm moments and the overarching vibe was serene, the Copenhagen trio of guitarist Nicklas Sørensen bassist Christian Becher and drummer Christoffer Brøchmann showed even more character in their material than I had thought was coming. The crypt stage was packed out early for them — I got there 20 minutes before they went on and still had a dude trying to push out of the way for a spot — but frankly, I couldn’t even argue with the impulse. What Papir were doing, loud or quiet at any given moment but universally hypnotic, was nothing if not an invitation.

Belzebong

Belzebong (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Kind of on the other end of a similar instrumentalist heavy spectrum were Belzebong, whose crusty, ultra-gree-heen take on stoner metal and sludge was like taking the notion of “riff-based” to what most would no doubt consider an illogical extreme. Some bands are a lifestyle, and Belzebong were a reminder of that. I don’t know how they’re received in their native Poland, but Høstsabbat certainly bid them welcome to the altar stage, and was more than willing to follow the bouncing skulls as the band headbanged in unison to each successive, massive riff. As with their recorded output — their third full-length, Light the Dankness (review here), came out last year — their live show is bent decidedly in favor of the primitive. It is stoned, and fuck you. I’ll grant that that, in itself, is an atmosphere, and Belzebong were well comfortable within it, but the whole idea was driving riffs into the brains of the willing and the converted because everyone else is probably a cop anyway. They were loud, they were huge-sounding, and they were everything you could possibly ask Belzebong to be on a Saturday night in Oslo. I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that also includes being high. If not, it’s doubly impressive.

Orsak:Oslo

Orsak Oslo (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I didn’t get to catch more than a few minutes of their set, because I was en route from one thing to the other, but I wanted to give quick mention to anyone paying attention to Orsak:Oslo, whose dreamy-space-vibe-rock I consider my “find” of the entire festival. Again, I didn’t see a lot of it, but what I saw was excellent and made me wish I could see more. They put out a record earlier this year on Germany’s Kapitaen Platte. If I could’ve figured out how to work VIPPS without a Norwegian ID number, I’d have bought the CD from the merch area. As it was, they were well worth the momentary detour across the street.

Slabdragger

Slabdragger (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Uh, progressive? But like the progressive that might kick you? I did have to look it up, but it’s been three years since London trio Slabdragger — which includes Old Man Lizard guitarist/vocalist Jack Newnham on drums — put out their second record, Rise of the Dawncrusher (review here), and one would think that might be long enough for them to get another release together, but seeing them in the crypt for Høstsabbat, I had no trouble believing it might be longer. They were half a decade between their first and second records, and with the complexity of what they were playing, it makes sense. Extended tracks, some parts rocking, other parts outright punishing, Slabdragger brought together a thoughtful mindset with tectonic intensity in a way that was undeniably their own. You might call them sludge on some level, if only because they’re so heavy — and they are, whatever else is going on at the time — but that barely scratches the surface. Bonus points to guitarist Sam Thredder, who asked to have the lights turned up after the first song so he could see what he was playing. “I swear that’s why that song only had one note,” he told the crowd as he prepared to share vocal duties again with bassist Yusuf Tary for another round of pummeling.

The Devil and the Almighty Blues

The Devil and the Almighty Blues (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Devil and the Almighty Blues, feeding off a hometown crowd’s energy, vocalist Arnt O. Andersen, guitarists Petter Svee and Torgeir Waldemar Engen, bassist Kim Skaug and drummer Kenneth Simonsen came out to the country-blues strains of “O Death” — as they’re wont to do — and proceeded to immediately earn the heroes’ welcome they were given by the crowd by building the ultra-catchy “Salt the Earth” from earlier-2019’s Tre (review here) from the ground up, Anderson, in robe, in utter command of the proceedings in true and classic frontman fashion, even when his arms were crossed and he stood at the back of the stage drinking a beer and nodding in approval. The band on either side of him — and behind, in the case of Simonsen — were both vibrant and tight, clearly playing up to the occasion at Kulturkirken Jakob in front of fans as well as what seemed to be friends and family. Their moody, possibly drunken sense of danger was readily on display, but they shone on a big stage in a way that underscored their touring and fest experience, and while I had to wonder what it would take to get them over to the US for a show, and if the American crowd would get it in the same way, I couldn’t help but think they’re a band my home country is missing out on by not having the chance to see live. They took what was obviously a special show for them and made it one for everyone else too.

LLNN

LLNN (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how heavy heavy actually gets. Fortunately, for those momentary lapses, along comes a band like LLNN to absolutely slam your skull into a wall. I had only barely checked out the Copenhagen outfit’s 2018 full-length, Deads, for a few seconds before deciding they were the something I wanted to experience live, and for two days of heaviness in that basement, there might indeed have been nowhere to go after them. Superlatively heavy, extreme post-metal, with atmospherics to push the air out of your lungs and tone to make sure it stays gone. Brutal, chaotic, whatever else. It was all of that churn and physical force behind the music, as well as being less about a cathartic expression — as was, say, SUMA, who opened the crypt yesterday — than a reveling in disaffection and alienation. So much weight brought to bear, and not all of it coldly or unemotionally. Their performance was no less ferocious than their sound, with the lights low and the strobe going and everything set to convey a sense of being overwhelmed, which was a standard they met easily. Not the kind of thing you’d put on for a dinner party — unless your dinner parties are awesome — but probably the kind of thing that should be played in art galleries as well as church basements. Pelagic released that album, so clearly I have some digging back to do in further investigation. Maybe a bit of recovery first though.

Colour Haze

Colour Haze (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was some technical difficulty at the outset — one of drummer Manfred Merwald‘s stage monitors didn’t seem to be putting out anything for a while there — but while that delayed their start a couple minutes, once Colour Haze got going for their headlining set at the second night of Høstsabbat, and whatever came before, the feeling of peace was palpable. It radiated from all corners of the stage, even from Merwald, who make no mistake is a madman behind the kit. That’s something that has become all the more visible since he’s turned the drums sideways to allow room for organist/synthesist Jan Faszbender on the stage; Faszbender being the fourth member who’s worked with the band for years on arrangements, recording, etc., but only really started to play shows with them for the last couple years, joining the trio of Merwald, bassist Philipp Rasthofer — he of the classiest bass tone I’ve ever heard — and guitarist/vocalist Stefan Koglek, whose hippie spirit on stage does nothing to undercut the precision and concentration behind his playing. They’ve been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band since the Spring, and have more tour dates lined up this year, but I was lucky enough to see them in this configuration in London in May 2018 (review here), and they’ve only gotten more fluid as a four-piece, adding nuance in between-song transitions and Faszbender‘s contributions to older material. They opened with “She Said” from the 2012 album of the same name (review here) and they jammed and jammed and jammed, with some new material thrown in for good measure. The record is called Life, and it’s slated for CD/DL release in November, so here’s hoping. In the meantime, “Aquamaria” and “Transformation” were glorious, and the warmth that Colour Haze exuded from the stage was such that not even the October night in Oslo could stand up to it. Seriously, I took off my hoodie. They’re not a band I’ll ever pretend to be remotely objective about, but what they do is singularly beautiful. Another 25 years would be just fine, thank you very much. And then some.

The Next Morning

Hi from Oslo International. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what the hell value Høstsabbat sees in inviting me to this festival, but holy crap it’s appreciated. The hospitality I’ve been shown this year and last year (and two years before that, as well) is sincerely humbling, and while I’m happy to come here and write as long as they’ll have me, I can’t say it makes any sense why they’d want me here.

As such, I’m not going to say anything about “next year.” Because, you know what, maybe Høstsabbat will do what’s well within their rights and tell me to get lost (which I did walking from the train station to the hotel on Thursday, same as last year). I feel like it would be reasonable.

So instead of talking about Høstsabbat 2020, which I’m sure will be excellent whether or not I’m here to see it, I’m going to take 2019 and breathe it in for a minute and appreciate what I’ve just spent the last two days doing for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was. How many chances am I going to have to see a band like Orsak:Oslo play in a tiny bar? Or Ufomammut and Colour Haze in a cathedral setting? Whatever does or doesn’t happen in the future, I was lucky to be here.

Special thanks to Ole and Jens, as always, and thanks to Stefan Koglek, The Patient Mrs. and most of all to you for reading.

Now, if you need me, I gotta go get on a plane. More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: ROADBURN 2019 Day One, 04.11.19

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 11th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

ROADBURN DAY ONE BANNER (Photo by JJ Koczan)

04.12.19 – 02.31 CET – Thursday night – Hotel

It’s a different kind of Roadburn for me, or at least this morning I decided it would be one. I’m still working on precisely what that means, so bear with me. Some of it I alluded to the other day, and some of it is just procedural on my end. I took no notes today. None. Normally when I’m here (or most places), I’m scribbling between bands, writing down observations that most of the time I don’t even go back and look at. Today I dropped the pretense. It felt freeing, and today was a good day to feel free.

Such as there is a map, Roadburn 2019 is all over it. The day started in low-key shoegaze psych Sherpa (Photo by JJ Koczan)bliss with Sherpa in Het Patronaat. They were the first band of the festival proper after the Ignition three-band pre-show last night. I had come back to the hotel to sleep after finalizing the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch issue this morning, but it was a big no dice. So I was early to the church and sat in front of the stage for a bit while people filed in. There was a good crowd by the time the Italian four-piece took the stage to play their late-2018 joy of a record, Tigris & Euphrates (review here), and they were treated to lush tones and drifting melodies, a kind of easing into Roadburn that one doesn’t always get, but the fest very clearly made an effort to establish its vibe early.

Bismuth would soon rough up the Hall of Fame. It was Myrkur: Folksange on the Main Stage. In the Koepelhal, Crippled Black Phoenix played a two-hour-plus set. And in the Green Room, it was Thor Harris (Swans, etc.) leading the way with Thor & Friends with a set experimentalist enough that you might as well just call it jazz. I caught a couple minutes of Thor & Friends after popping up to see Crippled Black Phoenix as Sherpa were starting to wind down and was treated to a bit of sax and percussion, but it was ultimately Myrkur that held me in place for the duration with gorgeous Nordic folk harmonies accompanied by strings, piano, and a genuine sense of traditionalist homage. I’ve heard Myrkur‘s folk recordings before, but as will happenCrippled Black Phoenix (Photo by JJ Koczan) in Tilburg each Spring, something special was taking place while the afternoon clouds parted to let in a bit of sun outside.

But even Myrkur: Folksange was a part of something larger than itself, and it was that initial burst of diverse sounds that would so quickly establish the vibe for the day. I bounced around until finally landing at Myrkur and stayed put in order to see Molasses, the first of this year’s three commissioned projects, and — I won’t lie — the one to which I was most looking forward. In 2014, following the death of The Devil’s Blood guitarist and aesthetic mastermind Selim Lemouchi, his sister and that band’s vocalist, Farida Lemouchi, took the stage with guitarist Oeds Beydals, Ron van Herpen (Astrosoniq) and a host of others to pay her brother tribute, and it remains one of the most moving sets I’ve ever seen at any RoadburnMolasses, in bringing together Farida and Beydals — who has since brought his band Death Alley to an arguably premature end — as part of a new, complete band that may or may not be ongoing, continues some of the spirit of The Devil’s Blood, but seems bound to find its own path as well.

This was their first show, and as Farida swayed in time to the music ahead of harmonizing with Beydals, they made a Molasses (Photo by JJ Koczan)powerful impression. Roadburn‘s foray into basically making bands and/or happen is no less extensively curated than the festival at large, but there’s a deeply personal aspect to that as well, and one suspects that’s all the more true of Molasses given their Dutch heritage and the members’ history with the festival. It was the start of something special, and I hear tell there’s a vinyl they’ll be selling starting tomorrow. Every year I let myself buy one piece of wax. No question in my mind what it’ll be this time.

Back up at the Koepelhal — which, I don’t know how big it is in comparison to the Main Stage of the 013, but it’s plenty huge enough — the Full Bleed art exhibit looked awesome and was arranged differently this year so it kind of got its own gallery. I had a couple minutes before Thou went on, so walked around. I’d already been there to buy merch — a black t-shirt and a red hoodie, because apparently my midlife crisis involved wearing a color, ever, on my torso; also hippie pants — but it was still being set up. It was packed into its space, but still awesome, and one more example of Roadburn branching beyond the confines of the traditional festival. I think the panel talks start tomorrow at V39, so yeah, there will be more of that.

Thou Acoustic (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Thou took the stage shortly thereafter for what was billed as an acoustic set but was really more just quiet and loaded with harmonies from three vocalists up front and more added from the band behind. The New Orleans outfit have long since left expectation behind, so I wasn’t necessarily anticipating anything specific one way or the other, but as they played I kind of felt like I was intruding on something. It’s hard to explain. It wasn’t that the show was so intimate in that massive space — although I did find myself wishing they would just go ahead and cover Alice in ChainsSap EP in full — and it didn’t lack expressiveness, I just suddenly felt like I was somewhere I didn’t belong. I don’t think Thou were shooting to be particularly inviting, so it’s nothing against them in this incarnation, but yeah. After a few minutes, I galumphed back to the 013 to catch the start of Hexvessel.

The Finnish outfit are kind of regulars on Planet Roadburn. They played here in 2012 (review here), 2013 and 2016 (review here), and frontman Mat McNerney played with the short-lived Beastmilk in 2014 (review here). Not exactly strangers to the experience. Still, they came this time heralding their latest long-player and return to their nature-worshiping forest Hexvessel (Photo by JJ Koczan)folk roots, All Tree (review here), so I was not about to miss them. Highlights from that record translated well to the Main Stage, “A Sylvan Sign” and “Wildness Spirit” working no less fluidly one into the other live than they do on the studio versions. Sudden as the shift seemed to a more kitchen-sink aesthetic on 2016’s When We are Death (review here), All Tree‘s re-establishing of their foundation was no less striking, but they certainly sounded well at home on stage, McNerney well cast as the folk troubadour. I’m not sure why they’re not on the folk circuit, but I’ll take it.

From there on out, it was all about Heilung. I did see some of Emma Ruth Rundle at the Koepelhal, after more take-that-establishment jaywalking across whatever thoroughfare that is, and I was glad to have done so, but I knew what the crux of my night was going to be, and it was going to be wearing antlers and bones of sundry wildebeests and it was going to be percussive and throat-singy while also astoundingly melodic, and that was Heilung playing their Lifa (review here) performance in its entirety. I say without Emma Ruth Rundle (Photo by JJ Koczan)reservation that it’s easily among the most complete aesthetic experiences I’ve ever had in a live setting, from the circle they formed at the outset — bringing Roadburn‘s own Walter in their midst as a part of the ceremony — to the shield and spear-carrying soldiers in black bodypaint, to the later mimed beheading, to the off-the-rails, how-is-this-dance-music-but-it-totally-is fracas that ensued later in the set, it was simply incredible. I have seen as much spectacle in my time as the next guy, but this was really something else.

I’ve heard murmurings that Heilung, who are signed to Season of Mist and have a new album called Futha due in June, are planning to bring their show — and it is a show; a sight as much as a sound to behold — to the US. I have to wonder how that will go in terms of venue and  just where they can play to pull it off. Festivals, presumably. But more than that, it seems like Northern Europe would obviously have a different relationship to the depictions of pre-Christian, pagan Norse history than would an audience in the States. The simple fact that their faces are painted black could very well raise eyebrows, Heilung (Photo by JJ Koczan)even in such a full context. It’s just not a question here, because it’s the native tribalism being depicted. One way or the other, I have little doubt they could make it work. They absolutely delivered a set that I’ll be talking about for probably years, no matter how many times and in whatever setting I might see them subsequent to tonight. I wasn’t going to stay for the whole thing, but there was no other option. A don’t-miss scenario.

There was still a lot of Roadburn left, and that’s not even talking about the next three days, and I had writing to do, but another part of the different Roadburn experience I’m having this year is staying out late. I did trundle back to the hotel to dump photos and get some work in on Crypt Trip (Photo by JJ Koczan)this review, but Crypt Trip came all the way from Texas to be here, and as I’ve been digging their recently-issued full-length, Haze County (review here), it was only fair to be there to see them. For the minimal effort, I was rewarded with some primo Lone Star boogie. You can insert whatever cliche you want to about barbecue here — I’m sure the San Marcos three-piece have heard them all, but the fact of the matter is they earned every hair bit of mustache they had, and even though they were on a totally different wavelength than anything else on the Main Stage today, they absolutely brought their A-game to the 013. I wish I could say I stayed the whole time and partied until two in the morning or whatever, but yeah, I’m old, and lame. Ugly too, but that’s beside the point.

What I was able to catch of Crypt Trip was a joy — and speaking of, Zach Oakley from Joy (who played last year) was hanging out on the side of the stage — and only affirmed in my mind the buzz I’ve been hearing about their live show for the last couple years. After the vast swath that today covered, closing out with some classic-style heavy rock and roll suited me just fine. It’s a long weekend and a big spectrum of aesthetic. Sometimes you just want to get down to the basics. And Crypt Trip definitely got down.

And that was night one of Roadburn 2019. So much for a laid back start to the fest, though I knew that was a pipedream anyway. Tomorrow I’m up again early to wrap the day’s issue of Weirdo Canyon Dispatch. If you saw that today or see it tomorrow or are reading this at all, thank you.

More pics after the jump.

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Høstsabbat 2019: Hexvessel and Suma Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

hostsabbat 2019 banner

You already know what I love about this, right? It’s how different these two bands are. Hexvessel — who, I admit, were announced last week; as ever, the Quarterly Review has me all jammed up as on other stuff waiting to be posted, so I thought it better to combine announcements rather than fall behind twice — and a Finnish freak-folk band, worshiping the natural world. Suma, from Sweden, would seem to only want to crush things natural and manmade alike with their chaotic and brutal noise. It’s what you’d call an unexpected pairing, and that’s exactly why I dig it. Maybe they’ll play back to back. That’d be fun.

There’s one more announcement next Friday from Høstsabbat 2019. Yes, I know who it is. It’s awesome. You don’t want to miss it. I’m not going to give you a clue, but it’s someone I’m very excited to see.

Here are confirmations for Hexessel and Suma in the meantime:

Most of the time these band descriptions kind of write themselves. This next band however, is something completely different.

Their latest album “All Tree”, released one month ago on Century Media Records, has spellbounded the Høstsabbat camp completely. Hexvessel operate in their own universe, mixing classic folky tones and groove, with the flourishing sounds of the 60’s-era. Freedom and no restraint is key.

The band serves the listener a lush experience, putting a smile on your face, teasing you for a walk in the sun leaving all things bad behind… Sometimes that’s what music is all about, right?

It’s also a landmark, to finally have the first Finnish band represented on our lineup. Can you imagine a better debut for these beautiful people from the East, than having HEXVESSEL play the Church? We surely can’t.

Please welcome HEXVESSEL to Høstsabbat 2019!

Ooooh, the heaviness!!!!

We are closing in on the announcements for this years’ festival, but there’s still two more goodies to come.

The first one is SUMA, probably one of the heaviest, hardest hitting, monstrous entities in our entire scene. For anyone who has witnessed this beast of a live act, there’s no doubt who’s in charge. We’ve seen people passing out, lying unconscious on the floor, knocked out totally, of the sheer weight coming out of the PA. They play around with the heavy with the greatest of ease, adding details, odd rhythms and undeniable grooves like true masters

SUMA are no strangers to Høstsabbat, and it’s one of those bands we knew we had to invite back at some point. Having gained momentum ever since their latest visit, these fellas from Malmö, Sweden, will lay waste to all crossing their path.

This steamroller will leave you flat.

FESTIVAL TICKETS
http://bit.ly/HSfestivalpass

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST – HØSTSABBAT 2019
http://bit.ly/HS2019playlist

https://www.facebook.com/events/274561413173994/
https://www.facebook.com/hostsabbat/
http://hostsabbat.no/

Hexvessel, “Changeling” official video

Suma, The Order of Things (2016)

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The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio Recap: Episode 11

Posted in Radio on March 4th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

gimme radio logo

Oh, it was a cold and snowy Sunday night, but the rawk was hawt, and so on. Okay, so maybe I’m not much for the introductions, but I dug this episode. I want to screw with what I’ve kind of made the “format” of this show, and starting out with Kings Destroy, Clamfight and Forming the Void in honor of the show I saw on Saturday at the Saint Vitus Bar was fun. So it’s a little more than just be being like, “Duh, I like this record so here’s this song by this band,” though of course that pretty much applies here as well. I don’t know. Just something a little different. Branch out a bit. Try not to set rules for myself.

Speaking of a lack of rules, this one gets a little weird. Look out for Return to Worm Mountain and Hhoogg in the second hour, and then Volcano leading into longer tracks from Sons of Morpheus and Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree. That last song from the latter is 17 minutes long, and hell yeah I was going to include it. So good. That record is an unexpected turn from them, but absolutely awesome, so if you know it, all the better, and if not, maybe you’ll dig. Dig dig dig.

New tunes besides from Hexvessel, Snowy Dunes, High Reeper, Yatra and the sadly-defunct Cloud Catcher, and a classic riff-roll from Spirit Caravan round out what I thought was a pretty killer mixtape, so yeah, if you checked it out last night or get to listen to it tomorrow morning, thank you.

Here’s the full playlist:

The Obelisk Show – 03.03.19

Kings Destroy Fantasma Nera Fantasma Nera*
Clamfight Echoes in Stone III
Forming the Void On We Sail Rift
BREAK
Yatra Smoke is Rising Death Ritual*
Hexvessel Wilderness Spirit All Tree*
Snowy Dunes Let’s Save Dreams Let’s Save Dreams*
High Reeper Bring the Dead Higher Reeper*
Cloud Catcher Beneath the Steel The Whip*
BREAK
Spirit Caravan Cosmic Artifact Jug Fulla Sun
Hhoogg Journey to the Dying Place Earthling, Go Home!*
Return to Worm Mountain Song for the Pig Children Return to Worm Mountain*
Smokey Mirror Sword and Scepter Split w/ Love Gang*
Volcano No Evil Know Demon The Island*
BREAK
Sons of Morpheus Slave (Never Ending Version) The Wooden House Session*
Bees Made Honey in the Vein Tree Cinitus Grandmother*

The Obelisk Show on Gimme Radio airs every other Sunday night at 7PM Eastern, with replays the following Tuesday at 9AM. Next show is March 17. Thanks for listening if you do.

Gimme Radio website

The Obelisk on Thee Facebooks

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Hexvessel, All Tree: A Wilderness Spirit

Posted in Reviews on March 1st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

hexvessel all tree

As side A plays out with its lush melodies and arrangements of flute and violin and cape-donned acoustic folk strum, past the pervasive sense of worship brought to “Son of the Sky” and “Old Tree,” Hexvessel frontman Mat “Kvohst” McNerney intones in “Changeling” the repeated line, “Come back home.” And so it seems the band has done just that. From the harmonized chants opening All Tree in the brief introduction “Blessing” through the birdsong of “A Sylvan Sign,” the quiet but present and foreboding layer of distortion in “Otherworld Envoy,” and the crackling fire of “Liminal Night,” the Finnish outfit have gone to ground aesthetically, and returned to the spirit of their earlier recordings, 2011’s Dawnbearer, 2012’s No Holier Temple, and 2013’s Iron Marsh EP.

Fair enough territory for McNerney and multi-instrumentalist Kimmo Helén (bass, piano, viola), guitarist Andrew McIvor, drummer/bassist Jukka Rämänen, vocalist/percussionist Marja Konttinen, guitarist Jesse Heikkinen and field recording specialist Antti Haapapuro to cover, but it’s a stark change from where Hexvessel were three years ago on When We are Death (review here). Their third album was a break-away from the methods of No Holier Temple et al, and found Hexvessel delving into psychedelic goth, death-driven Bowie swagger, and a broad pastiche of styles. In the context of the work they’ve done over the course of the last decade, All Tree makes When We are Death feel like an anomaly. Maybe it was. But the turn that brought Hexvessel there was no less stark than the turn that brings them to All Tree. Once again, the band as a whole are defying expectation, and as they lay claim once more to what one previously thought of as their core sound, they don’t necessarily forget the lessons of When We are Death in terms of tight songcraft — the ceremony runs a brisk 13 songs and 45 minutes — and nuance of arrangement, but there’s no question that the shift is a drastic one and it leaves one scratching their head at what might’ve been behind it. Even the cover art was done by the same artist who did No Holier Temple.

Perhaps the songs themselves hold the key to understanding the motivation. Like that “Come back home” in “Changeling,” or the chorus, “You can’t change this wilderness spirit,” in “Wilderness Spirit,” there is something about All Tree that feels very much to the core of Hexvessel‘s project. It brings together elements of British folk with a pointed naturalism that presents an alternate view of the modern world in which hillsides might be the shoulders of some giant unseen to human eyes or ghosts seem to populate the landscape as much as any form of life. In minimalist stretches like the finale “Closing Circles” or pieces of “Old Tree” earlier on, McNerney‘s voice is given a showcase it’s more than up to handling, and as much as there’s an overarching theme to the band’s sound, they subtly work in a surprising amount of variety, tapping into weepy pedal steel on “Birthmark,” bringing in session violinist Daniel Pioro for “Old Tree,” or recalling 16 Horsepower-style swing in “Wilderness Spirit.”

hexvessel

Be it the more severe strumming of “Ancient Astronaut” or the quiet brooding of the brief mostly-instrumental “Vision of A.O.S.” that follows, “Otherworld Envoy” with its build toward a resonant wash or the brief interplay of keys and guitar on “Journey to Carnac,” All Tree does not to away with the prior album’s fascination with alternate dimensional planes, but it is by reinterpreting the means of conveying these ideas that so much about All Tree feels different. Even in “A Sylvan Sign,” which is the longest inclusion here at 6:28 as well as the centerpiece of the tracklisting, there’s something ethereal about the proceedings and the hypnotic repetitions of the title amid the plucked strings of acoustic guitar. As dug into the earth as some of these songs seem, wandering aged forests with dirt under the fingernails, there is no lack of mystique or wonder to them. A decade on from their beginnings, Hexvessel seem to be returning to marvel at what surrounds them, telling stories of the place of one’s self in nature and nature’s place in one’s self. “Wilderness Spirit,” in that regard, is a declaration of freedom as much as anything.

So where does that leave Hexvessel? They’re not back where they started, by any means. The level of craft, the diversity of their arrangements and their ability to shift in mood has carried over from When We are Death to All Tree in a way that distinguishes the new work from anything they’ve done before, but at the same time, there’s no getting around the fact that Hexvessel have stepped back into a forest-folk style that, for the most part, they let go three years ago. Does that make All Tree a moment of reconciliation between who Hexvessel were and who they became? Does their fourth album negate the accomplishments of their third or invalidate them somehow? Did Hexvessel hear those songs and think it wasn’t working on some level? How did we get here? Maybe (almost certainly) I’m overthinking it, but what does the fact that Hexvessel returned at least to the general vibe of their earlier work say about who they are as a band?

I’m not sure, and I’m not sure we’re supposed to know. For a band who made so much of their statement stylistically, it was particularly bold when Hexvessel dropped (almost) everything and went in a different direction. Likewise, listening to All Tree, it feels no less bold for Hexvessel to be back under such open skies. I can’t answer the questions above and I’m not going to try, but it feels like much of the purpose in these songs is self-discovery as it is expression. In that regard, Hexvessel have never wavered at all. As a collection in its own right, All Tree has moments of pain, beauty and awe that come across as genuine and driven by an urgency in their creation. On a level of craft, Hexvessel have never sounded more sure of what they want to do or how they want to make that unreal real. As to the rest, their story clearly isn’t done being written, and the narrative has grown more complex with time. Something tells me they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hexvessel, “Changeling” official video

Hexvessel on Thee Facebooks

Hexvessel on Twitter

Hexvessel on Instagram

Hexvessel on Bandcamp

Hexvessel website

Century Media website

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