Since the music of Baroness has been unlike any other band to me, and more akin to a spiritual experience since I first got into them in 2007, I set the mood for myself before listening. I turned the lights down low, cracked the window open to get a nice breeze going, and heard the sound of large late summer raindrops filling my ears. The city’s heartbeat in the deep background was the only other sound besides my breathing. I just stared at the new album artwork for five straight minutes. At peace for a change, in the still and calm of myself, and by chance, present in the city of my birth for a few days, I hit play on the promo and then let the first notes hit me.
I’ve always pictured the Stockholm-bound The Riven as the Swedish version of Thulsa Doom – similar vibes, similar undertones, and similar upbeat resonances. The RIven, as far as I observe, has always been influenced by the sounds from the golden age of classic rock; the 1970s and 1980s. Their sounds are genuinely hard-hitting, sharp-shooting, and they appear to be the kind of sounds that would make you want to headbang as the exciting memories in your head replay themselves in retrospect whilst you listen to them. In terms of genre classification, they might pass as heavy blues rock with progressive, psychedelic, and classical influences and a strong emphasis on menacing riffs as well as vigorous vocals.
Even in this musically idiosyncratic world of genres, sub-genres, tribes, sub-tribes and singleton geniuses, the desire for Finnish psychedelic folk rock may not have been top of your musical shopping list. You should change that forthwith now that Hexvessel’s third album, the striking When We Are Death (Century Media), has arrived for our collective delectation.
Four years ago, their second album, No Holier Temple was a curious and often compelling blend of Woods of Ypres inspired atmospherics, Opeth tinged acoustics and an obvious and deep-seated love of drug influenced 60s and 70s rock, particularly that made by Mr. Jim Morrison and his partners in crime in The Doors.
No Holier Temple was about the trip and the mood; it was inviting and beguiling. By contrast, When We Are Death initially appears as a straightforward folk rock record. Before you jump to a logical conclusion that they have thrown the baby out with the Finnish bathwater, hold your psychedelic horses. The band’s love of psychedelia remains resolutely intact: when you have songs called Drugged Up On the Universe and Mushroom Spirit Doors it is fairly self-evident how the band spend part of their leisure time but there is also a much more deliberate attention to song structure and that oft-ignored discipline of the tune in distinct evidence here. Have a listen, for example to the sparky, keyboard soaked friskiness of When I Am Dead or the smoky jazz backdrop of the reflective and melancholic Mirror Boy and you’ll immediately understand what I’m getting at.
At the heart of this collective endeavour is the vocal prowess of British born Mat McNerney who has a fragility and emotional heft to his voice that does three things particularly well. First: it brings an authenticity to the songs that cuts through with striking immediacy. Second: as narrator, his range is never overbearing nor irritating. Third: he does the best Jim Morrison you’ve heard in ages. Oh and, yes, this is the same Mat from Beastmilk, by the way.
Hexvessel are an intoxicating proposition. They are not, repeat, not, a heavy metal band. Not in the stereotypical sense of the phrase anyway.However, Hexvessel share some of the same qualities and attitude that underscores the metal aesthetic. This is a record is a record of charm and wit and invention. It is a record that is warm and inviting and, being released in the depths of winter, you cannot say any fairer than that. So we won’t.