I guarantee that you are looking at the album cover to the left (or above, if you’re cellphone-advantageous) and are probably guessing the review score without even scrolling down. Believe me when I say that I took one look at that garishly drawn, purple-as-fuck monstrosity and noped the daylights out of it myself. In my fuzzy cat-brain, without even hearing a note of They Ride Along by Austrian newcomers Hagzissa, I had visions of Enbilulugugal dancing in my head, and that’s not a happy memory to drag back into fruition. But I’m always willing to give everyone a fair shot, and we all know how the old adage goes about books and covers. After a few listens, I can conclude that yes, this is black metal, and yes, it possesses an in-your-face quality to it that is undeniable.
But this is also fun. Yes, you heard me with your sad little eyes. Fun. That becomes apparent within a few seconds of opener “Die Pforte (A Speech Above the Moor),” where a slow, crawling riff and some rather disgusting (in a good way) bass just plods along before boogieing down like a 70’s horror-punk song. From there, vocalist B. Moser hisses and growls not with icy intent, but with a ghoulish, maniacal bent. Overall, there may be whiffs of Darkthrone here and there, but the vibe I’m experiencing is what Cathedral would have sounded like if they took The Ethereal Mirror and blackened it up a hair. Or, conversely, what Cultes des Ghoules would sound like if they possessed a fetish for brevity and self-editing.
Elsewhere, They Ride Along flaunts its ghoulish flair even further. Album “Moonshine Glance (An Iron Seed in Sour Soul)” feels like a waltz being fronted by a ranting lunatic in dire need of a Ricola throat drop, with Moser hissing sweet nothings while the band chugs along with fantastic riffs by Morast. “Searing Effigy,” the closest the band comes to traditional black metal, still goes off the groovy rails at points, driving the point home that Hagzissa don’t adhere to many playbooks that came before them. I wish more black metal bands took chances by pneumatically catapulting themselves outside of their comfort zones, as the likelihood that anyone would remember them increases exponentially. I don’t believe Hagzissa knows what “comfort” even means, as they take quite a few chances here.
That doesn’t mean all of them are successful, however. They rely on that 3/4 (or 6/8) time signature a little bit too much, as well as maintaining almost the same exact tempo throughout. You don’t even need me to tell you that this results in a lot of similar-sounding passages and riffs. “They Ride Along on the Howling Winds!”1 sets itself up as a prime example of tempo/time-signature fatigue, as it doesn’t differentiate itself much from the other songs here. In fact, the back-half of the album drags in comparison to the front-half, as it just feels a bit too familiar towards the end. That said, though, there’s so much that’s oddly charming about They Ride Along that even when they command me to doodle (closer “There, Draw a Circle!”),2 I can’t help but just smile and nod along.
And that’s an odd thing for a black metal album to make me do. Yet, They Ride Along proudly stands up as a complete anomaly amongst the grim, frostbitten hordes of frowny-faced tremolo addicts the world over, and I can’t thank Hagzissa enough for standing out while rocking out. While I can’t give a full recommendation just yet, I will definitely keep a watchful eye out for future releases, as they’ve got quirkiness and riffs by the truckload. Just don’t stare at the cover for too long without blinking.