Things seem to come in sets of three, be they good, bad or some combination thereof. As proof of this irrefutable cosmic law, this week has graced me with three examples of stoner/doom/retro music: Ghost, Spiritual Beggars and now Hexvessel. I hadn’t heard of this oddball, psychedelic group of Finns until their No Holier Temple album last year, and I found myself quite taken with their folksy, trippy and hypnotic take on 60s and 70s rock. The songs rambled through different moods in an unhurried, laconic way, and once I got used to it, I was sold. Iron Marsh is an EP intended as the companion piece to No Holier Temple and though it’s only five songs in length, it clocks in at just under thirty-five minutes and makes for a ad hoc double album. It packs more of their unusual, but enchanting style and it’s every bit as off-kilter (hell, they even cover a fucking Yoko Ono song!). There are nods to the drugged out, sleepy rock of the Woodstock era mixed with eerie occult themes and odd atmospheres and it works better than a lot of the stuff on the new Ghost album, though it’s even less metal. Basically, it’s a big magic mushroom waiting for you to take a bite.
They open things with the EP’s centerpiece “Masks of the Universe,” which at thirteen plus minutes, seems an arduous listen, but it’s such a lush, beautiful song, the time slips away from you quickly. As horns, Hammond organs, violins and guitars blend and weave together to create the musical equivalent of Alice’s trip through Wonderland, you can’t help be impressed by how clever they are at creating dreamy, floating passages and unusual moods.
“Superstitious Currents” is a bit more grounded and comes across like Hammers of Misfortune mixed with Jethro Tull. It’s folksy, but thick with occult themes and a vague sense of malevolence. Matt McNerney’s vocals are haunting and the use of understated violins really takes things up a notch. The same style spills over into “Tunnel at the End of the Light” which adds ghostly, ethereal vocals from Marja Konttinen which McNerney adroitly matches with his tender, frail style of singing and the effect is quite intoxicating.
The high point may be their take on Yoko’s own “Women of Salem.” It’s weird as hell and comes across like an off, off Broadway show-tune about the Salem witch trials (think Godspell and Hair, but about covens and lots of executions). Marja’s chants of “Salem, Salem, witches must hang” and “must kill, must hang” in a sweet, sugar-coated voice are effective, memorable and really creep me the hell out. I can’t speak to the original version, but this one is a total trip.
Essentially Iron Marsh continues the offbeat coolness of No Holier Temple with some added weirdness tossed in for shits and giggles. If you liked what you heard before, you should enjoy this. I’m fast becoming a fan of these wacky cats and look forward to more forest ritual music.