Monday, 9 August 2010

Hexenmeister - ...And Life In Insomnia (2010) 80/100.

I don’t normally consider cover songs an important part of an albums make-up but when I noticed the cover of ‘Autumn Leaves’, a Ved Buens Ende song taken from their only full-length ‘Written In Waters’, I had an inkling that this Ukrainian act would stand apart from the majority of depressive black metal bands, though it’s fair to say that Hexenmeister are fairly broad in a genre sense, seeing as this project could also fall under the atmospheric tagging. I’m not a big fan of cover songs and despise cover albums, but it does help when an artist covers a song you already know and enjoy as I’m partial to a bit of Ved Buens Ende on the odd occasion. To me, cover songs are oven fodder. They point to a lack of creativity and originality. I often skip over them because they rarely match up to the original in terms of quality and artists can make such a hash of covering songs when they implement their own touches of originality into a song which doesn’t need altering. However, there are certainly some occasions when bands cover songs, whilst adding their own little touches to it, and make a good job of it but those occasions are few and far between.

It isn’t even a case of quality when it comes to the cover integrated into this debut full-length album, entitled ‘...And Life In Insomnia’. The song hinted at an album which could possibly contain a number of creative changes, therefore it became instantly more appealing than the majority of cliché ridden acts in the depressive black metal scene. The cover certainly fits well with the remainder of the album as it is just as atmospherically driven and unafraid of experimenting with the black metal sound, adding acoustics and a light, cleaner feel on occasions, though the vocals seem a bit too intense. Eastern Europe has a number of depressive black metal artists around, but the vast majority are very obscure and raw in sound. Most have yet to discover how to record properly, or even how to shape a good song in terms of structure and song writing. Hexenmeister are one of the few professional sounding bands from the region, often using a very clean production to get over the small hints of shoegaze in the soundscapes.

Other outside elements are supplied in small quantities but through the use of a cleaner production, as shown on songs like ‘Hermitage’, the band segregate themselves from the lacklustre section of bands in the same sub-genre through simple actions. This song, for example, uses clean effects, clean guitars and even some whispered clean vocals. The approach isn’t dominated by huge levels of distortion and repetition, but when those elements do come into play, as they do towards the end of the song, they’re seem well placed and well considered in terms of how they will affect the atmosphere of the song. Depressive black metal acts are beginning to experiment more and more with cleaner sounds and even outside factors like shoegaze. Take Hypomanie, for example. As with Hexenmeister, Hypomanie have begun to integrate cleaner guitars and a less subtle/more obvious bass influence alongside traditional aspects like harsh rasps and hypnotic distortion.

Hexenmeister, though not as adept as Hypomanie at doing so, make good use of all instruments, particularly the bass. Again, as with Hypomanie and the like, Hexenmeister manage to successfully allow the bass to have an influence, despite being cleaner in sound and underlying, despite the use of heavy double bass, distortion and Neige-like rasps. ‘In Moments of Tranquility’, a superb mesh of Burzumic and Alcest-esque musings, is a treat when it comes to aspects like the aforementioned. The song even manages to incorporate classically driven elements, like a sombre string section fronted by what sounds like a cello. Songs like this really hammer home the feeling that Hexenmeister are more daring than your average band, like Pensées Nocturnes, for example. The song descends into a wonderfully energetic mixture of classical, black metal and folksy elements through the use of acoustics, a piano and light, but moving synths.

Songs like the aforementioned even have time to implement soaring solos into the mix, a great and individualistic asset to a band of this nature. This isn’t just a factor on one song, but several different ones. Of course, the song isn’t without its fair share of typically black metal inspired moments. As I said earlier, the vocals, which become more and more Neige inspired, become central to the album. They’re very powerful, but don’t dominate too much, despite being a central theme. Hexenmeister are weary however of becoming too stereotypical and with the addition of songs like ‘Where You will Stop, and I'll Keep Falling’, the band begin to sound far removed from your average black metal scene. The drums take on a lighter, jazzier feel, whilst the bass and guitars maintain a clean sound. The album begins as if it will be fairly formulaic but, the longer it goes on, the more it becomes a creative and dynamic release with lots of potential for the future. In its current format, the sound is still very raw and yet to be properly harnessed but it has bags of potential. A solid debut with an exciting future.

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