Think of the most oppressive, putrid, and harrowing music you know. Now multiply the numerical representation of that oppressive and harrowing putridity by a thousand million. Your numerical representation is dwarfed by that of Hexis. In their world, Wormed sound like the Beach Boys, Ahab sound like wimpy clown fish, and Annal Nathrakh sound like a Tony Bennett tribute act. Eradicating this hyperbolic opening in favor of a more measured and rational approach, The Dane’s in Hexis play a blackened-hardcore that writhes and squirms with a depth of sound that consumes all; there is no room for subtle dynamics here. Tando Ashanti is their second full-length, following on from 2014’s similarly dense and unforgiving Abalam.
The hardcore elements of their sound are faint but the ethos – short and intense songs and somewhat simplistic though effective riff-patterns and song progressions – runs through the album like pure mustard gas. They share traits with fellow hardcore-influenced bands like Young and in the Way and Enabler, however Hexis possess a closer link to death-metal and sludge. The sonic-force of Wormed and the absolute filth of Indian are two stylistic influences that bludgeon their way through the dense sound that Hexis create on Tando Ashanti. Blackened elements arise through the wash of tremolo that occurs at incremental points through the album, alongside the searing harsh cries of vocalist Filip Andersen: a venomous force to behold throughout.
The three best tracks form a back-to-back-to-back trinity of brutality. Each – “Molestus,” “Ritualis,” and “Calimitas” – falls short of the three-minute mark, but they carry a heaviness that follows through the entire album. It’s the almost-industrial wash of pulsating noise supplied by the rhythm section that obfuscates these tracks, providing a claustrophobic background for the riffs, drums, and vocals to weave their heavy-handed magic. Verging on toneless, “Molestus,” like a rampaging tornado, grows in pace and intensity as the prominent drums increasingly quicken and the guitars grow hazier. “Ritualis” enters with a dirty swagger as the drums carry a more peculiar flavor. The pace slows, slightly, giving space for Filip Andersen to spew forth blackened cries of ‘I can feel your anxiety.’ Riff-wise “Calimitas” shares a lot in common with the sharp attack of Immolation, however Hexis intensify this ten-fold. Follow up track “Nocturnis” shifts the tempo into moodier territories but is similarly as effective. The drumming has a defter feel, the riffs bleed a subtler sense of anguish, and the song builds crushingly before fading out to desolate ambience.
Even when songs slow down the venom and unease remain. Following the mid-paced, blackened opening of “Ashanti” the song slows to a plod as the music begins to de-construct itself: vocals gurgle with an unpalatable looseness, the bass fades to a uniform blob, and guitar lines unravel, cranking and soaring out of key. This breakdown of melody and, to a certain extent music, re-appears throughout the album to profound effect. “Cordolium” follows a similar path; at the mid-way point silence smothers before an off-key clangor of background buzz and dissonant guitar licks reverberate with menace. “Resurrection,” very much reminiscent of the eerie “Finale” from the recent Dodecahedron, shuns guitars all together as cavernous feedback, slow drum beats, and spitting vocals form a demonic trinity.
My main issue is with the structuring of the album itself. As the album progresses Hexis begin to eschew the intensity of the first half in favor of slower interludes and riff-patterns that lack the force and hooks of the opening. Tando Ashanti would excel if it rip-roared through from start to finish at a break-neck speed with rarer use of slower moments. Although possessing traces of the atmospheric maelstrom of the opening track, the majority of eighth track “Cordolium” trudges along at a rather bland and uninspired pace. Sometimes a good pummeling is what we all need. A shorter and more intense record would, in my opinion, serve better. It is difficult to follow such an excellent opening. Despite the strength of “Resurrection,” “Septum” and “Presagium” – the two closing tracks – fail to add anything memorable or different enough to improve the album.
Tando Ashanti is a consistently bludgeoning album that’ll set the blood flowing, the hatred growing, and your love for heavy music glowing. This is a genuinely heavy record – supported by a solid production, particularly the drums – that manages to retain elements that are conventional and recognizable enough to head-bang to. Simultaneously, moments of disembodied creepiness stain the ether that floats through the album, providing a backdrop that’ll keep you awake at night.