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Friday, September 14, 2012

Album Review: Hexvessel - No Holier Temple

Hexvessel love trees. It’s quite clear that the “Temple” in the title of their sophomore album is referring to all things nature and, in particular, the life cycles of those tall, knotty skyscrapers themselves. Mat McNerney and his “Death Magicians” have moved on from their Dawnbearer debut and are taking their mystical folk music into some pretty dark, haunting places and on trips that may (or may not) have involved prolonged episodes of mushroom-munching.

There’s still a strong acoustic folk vibe going on with big plays coming from sax (“Woods To Conjure”), violin and piano (“Wilderness Is) and even didgeridoo (“Elegy To Goyahkla”), but they also unveil moments that will see you referencing black metal, and a decaying velocity that wraps its outstretched arms around the genre of doom. The opening, wildly self-indulgent, spoken passage outlining the glory of “Heaven And Earth Magic” sets the more solemn tone whilst passages of crystal clear, eulogising vocal plugged with stronger harmonies, particularly noticable in “His Portal Tomb” set one in mind of the work of Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy). They are rich in melody and travel lightly along a gentle cadence. Around them is layered the sort of music that could be described as possessing a certain Beatles-y charm.

In and out of the subtle shades of potency, those that evoke the music of Ihsahn and Opeth comes something else. Tracks like the 10-minute “His Portal Tomb” and the 13-minute “Unseen Sun” that see the band happily ringing in the changes with warm, fuzzed guitar cracking out those metallic elements. They, in turn, ignite the doom fuse for those that didn’t even realise it was there all along. More twists await in the form of the cabaret wake-up call of “Are You Coniferous?” and the addictive, Levellers-esque ceremonial melodies of “Sacred Marriage”.

Ultimately, though, there is just so much music here that fails to capture the heart in the same way that a small portion of the songs do. It’s always a disappointment to hear so much falling short of hitting the mark that the standard-bearers set. The opening groundwork, so grindingly laid out, is just too weak to support the grit that the back end of the album displays. There’s way too many pompous passages of spoken word; poetic and thought-provoking, for sure, but completely energy-sapping. The fact they’ve covered a track (“Your Head Is Reeling”, one of the album’s better ones) by a band called Ultimate Spinach speaks volumes about them. Hexvessel’s exploration of the connective possibilities of their humble folk music is certainly impressive and No Holier Temple is a definite step forward but they need to stop sucking the life out of their music.

Also online (with extras) @ Ave Noctum =
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