And now for something completely different.
Make no mistake – Kvohst, the English-born frontman of and mastermind behind the Finland-based outfit Hexvessel, is no stranger to the world of metal, being involved in such acts as Code, Dødheimsgard, Gangrenator, and Decrepit Sceptre. And while Hexvessel is dripping with the darker atmosphere of those bands, sonically it’s quite a ways away from metal, occupying the same space as the darker psychedelic folk rock of decades past. That being said, there is a lot present on their 2012 release No Holier Temple, to appeal to metal heads in the mood for something a little softer.
I have to confess that the opening track Heaven and Earth Magic, a spoken poem backed by sparse drums and plucked acoustic guitar, put me instantly in mind of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge and made me worried that the album might be a bit too earnest to take seriously. Those fears were put to rest almost immediately upon the start of the first song proper, Woods to Conjure, an alternately menacing and melancholy lament for the way we destructively exploit the Earth. Brooding acoustic guitar is backed by eerie chanting and mournful trumpet summon the anguish of a pained world being stretched beyond its capacity. This is a running theme throughout the band’s work; press for the album explicitly references radical environmentalists Dave Foreman and Howie Wolke, and the lyrics speak of a spiritual bond with the Earth that implies a holistic connection between man and his world, a connection we’ve forgotten, boding poorly for our future.
The instrumentation on this album is absolutely gorgeous, made more so by the perfect mixing and production. It sounds at once sparse and lush, and the mix of more familiar rock instruments with the occasional surprise such as a trumpet or hurdy-gurdy never compete, always complementing each other. Everything is perfectly audible at all times. The centrepiece of the album, the 10+ minute His Portal Tomb, is the first track to introduce any distortion to the record with an open, droning riff, though the lilting chorus splits the doomy verses with an airy beauty straight out of the best of 70s psychedelia, and the instrumental middle section is one of the most satisfying pieces of music I’ve heard this year.
As I stated earlier, this is not a metal album, but for anyone who enjoys the works of progressive metal bands who take their progressive aspects from the lighter, more psychedelic bands of the 70s, or even for fans of folk metal bands who enjoy the softer interludes of plucky guitar and traditional instruments, this album will prove a welcome addition to their library. Not entirely a change of pace, it’s more a walk on a parallel path in the same direction. I almost hesitate to call it the neofolk album it surely “should” be classified as, I’d almost rather call it a folk metal album stripped of all the usual trappings of metal and left with the philosophy spoken with new aesthetics. It’s an absolutely wonderful album, and any metal fan would be doing themselves a great disservice by passing on it because it’s “not metal”. And not only that, they’d be wrong. It’s maybe not “metal”, but it’s pretty metal.