Expectations are precarious things. The older we get, the more we assume they will go unmet. This almost religiously applies to super groups. When I came across Finland’s Hedonihil, a death metal project comprised of members of Swallow the Sun, I expected great things. But when I delved into the press materials (always foolish) and saw them described as anti-poetry, I expected substantially less great things.1 Still, with such lofty credentials, it’s hard not to presume some kind of quality. Swallow the Sun‘s current album, When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light, proved to be an often captivating experience. Thus, I was more than a little intrigued to see what Juuso Raatikainen, Mikko Kotamäki and Juho Räihä might come up with. As debut album I purportedly emits “negative vibes only,”2 what could possibly go wrong?
Strictly speaking, I is not a typical death metal album. The project’s sound takes a multitude of cues from traditional black metal. An invitation to gamble, orange-in-hand, through one Carpathian Forest seems particularly tantalizing in the pacing. This offers the material a sense of acceleration that never really applies the breaks. Kotomäki relies on his gruesome higher range, which compliments Raatikainen’s ceaseless blastbeats. Throw in Räihä’s blend of tremolos and punk-inspired riffs, and the charring is complete. But make no mistake, these aren’t your typical frost-bitten odes to Mistress Winter. Instead, these songs recall the extreme frothing of a genre that hates anything other than raucous riffing and singularly frenetic percussion.
The album has a sense of immediacy, which opts to flay the skin indiscriminately rather than burrow under it. “Run You Scum” and “The Whole Human Species Systematically Murdered” both make for the throat at first blush. “The Hedonist Anthem” balances the same scathing attitude but with a generous helping of melody to cement its message. Such inherent velocity certainly goes a long way but, what it gives liberally with one hand, it takes with the other. I has a glaringly feral character, but it also merges together with upsetting ease. None of Hedonihil‘s work is poor; it would be incredibly difficult to justify shoddy writing considering the pedigree. However, countless spins later, the only real riff I could easily remember was from “Temple of Venus,” one of I‘s more death metal-centric cuts. While the songs are enjoyable, if I can’t adequately recall them, replay value rapidly diminishes.
Despite I‘s relative brevity, the fatiguing master provides some unwanted extra mileage. Considering the majority of the songs are one-track minded, the album’s dense loudness makes a great case for skipping the play button entirely. Most of the songs clock in at just over three minutes, but the compression mingles with the pace to extend the record past its prime. Unfortunately, this also seems to compound the mild frustration found in the track ordering. I‘s contents seem to evolve as the album transpires. The songs increasingly introduce new elements, albeit sparingly. Eventually, “Better Tomorrow” rolls around. It’s a natural conclusion and summary of the album’s themes. But its not the last track, which just renders the following “Pessimism is the New Realism” and dubious GG Allin cover about as superfluous as it gets.
Hedonihil are advocates of misanthropy in the classic metal sense. I is a big, fat exaltation of “we hate you and wish you were dead,” and that’s fine with me. I suspect the album may well be the result of some much-needed catharsis after the members’ main vehicle has spent the last few years tackling such prolonged loss. In reply, I emits an exasperated “fuck you” that leaves only bile-bleached bones in its wake. But after a while, I crave something more: A bludgeoning, a drowning or an outright battering to go hand-in-hand with the scorching. Invest in Hedonihil if you’re in need of some spiritual flagellation. Just be prepared to move on with the year a little sooner than expected.