REVIEW: HEXVESSEL – “When We Are Death”
When one thinks of Finnish music, two things are likely to come to mind: traditional folk songs, or some form of extreme metal. Now, while I am more inclined to favour the heavy and perilous, snow-covered side of the forest, sometimes the more mellow camp-grounds can’t be ignored. Enter, Hexvessel and their latest release, ‘When We Are Death’.
Despite the opening four bars containing a lacklustre floor tom / snare pattern, the first track, “Transparent Eyeball”, is easily the highlight of the album. The riffs are rhythmic, the vocal melody is catchy, and the psychedelic keyboards provided by Kimmo Helén make you want to put your metal horns down for a minute and dance. In fact, the keys are the most interesting part of the entire album. The following few songs are far less memorable: “Earth Over Us” sounding like a sadder, drug-induced version of “Transparent Eyeball”, and “When I’m Dead” offering little in terms of originality. Frankly, most of ‘When We Are Death’ is quite repetitive, and some of that has to do with lyrics. “Drugged Up On The Universe”, for example, features a chorus that is essentially just a lazy chant declaring that everyone is “drugged up”. However, this is actually another track that I warmed up to, starting off with a promising dark and mysterious melody in 3/4. “Mushroom Spirit Doors” is also fairly decent, which at least contains more interesting hi-hat and snare work than the other tracks.
In case it wasn’t obvious enough, the main lyrical themes on ‘When We Are Death’ appear to be drugs and nature, which is a whole lot better than what you find in popular music these days. According to Hexvessel’s website, this album is the “most personal” one yet for British frontman and founder Mat McNerney, which probably indicates that the reason I’m not the biggest fan of this release is that I don’t do enough acid in the forest. Humour aside, subjects such as trees and mushrooms do make even the simplest songs more appealing to me, especially when they represent the bigger picture of the cycles of life, and so I can at least applaud McNerney for that.
As far as the production of this album goes, the drum sound seems slightly muted, as if the toms were recorded next door to the studio, but otherwise the mix is good in terms of allowing all of the instruments to be heard equally without competing. More commendable is the album artwork, which is eerily beautiful, the autumn colours containing astounding texture. The woman lying among the leaves almost appears to be dissolving back into the earth from whence she came, reflecting the deeper meanings that lurk within the aforementioned lyrics.
Those who enjoy the danceable rhythms of psychedelic rock alongside the deep and melancholic spirituality of folk music are in for a treat with Hexvessel, but it isn’t for everyone. ‘When We Are Death’ is quite hit and miss, for while it features some intriguing melodies and themes, it also lacks a great deal of creativity. Pre-existing fans might see it as the band going in a new direction, but in the scope of things, it isn’t all that different from the standard hippie rock ’n’ roll of the 60’s and 70’s. If that’s what they are aiming for, then they have certainly achieved their goal and I congratulate them – because not every musician is trying to be revolutionary; some just want to create the soothing, familiar sounds that they are comfortable with, and I can respect that.