I rank an immersive atmosphere high on my list of key features of a great album. Albums that are a continuous journey — that feel like a living, breathing organism — are key to my enjoyment. The titillating album title Cosmic Doom Ritual jumped out at me for being both a bluntly simple title and one that I expected would lead me into the atmospheric realm of my dreams. Each word stood out and beckoned me. Cosmic: I love all things space — Darkspace, Mare Cognitum, and Midnight Odyssey; Doom: I love all things, well, doom; Ritual: I love anything reminiscent of the primal sound of early Neurosis and Isis. These three things combined made me froth at the mouth like a dog with rabies. With Cosmic Doom Ritual, the German four-piece Hexer (German for ‘Witch’) have a lot to live up to, partly because of my disgustingly overblown projections and partly because, as stated on the supplementary information document given with the album, the album tells of “being devoured by a giant sea creature.” What’s not to like about that?
The album tells the story of a cosmic journey through the deepest blackness, suffusing elements of sci-fi, horror, and existentialism. Essentially, the journey is going well until it doesn’t go so well, which leads to the downcast atmosphere of the album. Opener “Merkaba” flitters into life with aching beauty before exploding with raw sludge atmospherics. Hearty slabs of drawling despair reminiscent of Indian and Thou emerge initially. In their vein, the interrelation between loud and quiet are the trademark combinations. As the song progresses explorative sections espouse rich, melancholy post-rock moods akin to Russian Circles, like at the seven-minute mark. Subtle minor key changes add an emotional depth that counteracts well against the huge slabs of dissonant guitar work of the opening sections. The cosmic aspect dwells beneath in the form of throbbing and pulsing analog-synths. Despite a rather low DR, Cosmic Doom Ritual carries an immersive depth that manages to convey a claustrophobic density during spurts of death/doom and an expansive clarity during the contrasting cosmic sections.
As the cosmic doom ritual continues to expand and grow, “Pearl Snake” opens with stronger tinges of the ritualistic. Psychedelic leads snake with a bluesy clarity, obfuscated by hazier rhythmic guitars, as billowing death growls float through the mix with a disembodied lightness. Elements of Om and Ufomammut emerge, combining the faintest traces of oriental and middle-eastern inspired melodies. As acoustic arpeggios lengthen — I can’t shake a connection between the dream melancholy of a Jeff Buckley track in the clean guitar sections — and middle-eastern percussive elements drift in tandem, a sprightly bass tone counteracts with groovy grooves and cranking blues. If only the bass could be thicker and terser. It’s all meditative by this point, with loop after loop of trance-inducing rhythm that doesn’t build to a formulaic post-metal crescendo. Instead, it subverts that expectation, simmering and confidently dwelling in the rhythmic patterns. It does show flashes of letting loose, however, its greatest strength is holding back and building steadily. The vocals are largely uniform, though at times they’re somewhat reminiscent of a German Justin Broadrick or Barney Greenway with short, harsh chants being spat out.
“Black Lava Flow” segues promisingly with a demented eagle-monster like snarl that screeches in harmony with guitar and ambient noise. Loose drone and ambient touches, somewhat like the experimental feel of The Body, rise then fall, however, the main direction here is a Conan-esque chug-fest etched with crusty transitions and vocals. As expected the song re-slips into the psychedelic void at the six-minute point, twiddling its cosmic thumbs until it reaches the end at the ten-minute mark. In comparison to the first two tracks, “Black Lava Flow” loses steam and fizzles out, sauntering with riffs and atmospherics that can’t quite keep up with the feverish intensity of the opening two tracks.
Three tracks and 34-minutes of cosmic doom metal was just what the doctor ordered. Hexer’s surprisingly tactful use of melody, nuance and feel drifts beneath cataclysmic slabs of sludge and doom, creating an intriguing sonic landscape that retains the listener’s interest for the majority. Despite a rather tedious closing act, the occasional lack of clarity in the mix during heavier moments, and that elusive musical equivalent of “wow, that was awesome,” Hexer are a band that oozes atmosphere and immersion. A bit more fine-tuning and identity-finding and Hexer will continue to grow. Long live cosmic doom!