Hex A.D. – Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden Review

They say you never forget your first time. I was a naked and shivering n00b, huddled fearfully in the depths of the Skull Pit, trying to get my bearings. What was I doing here? How had this happened? Before long, a giant ape and a grizzled, corpse-painted figure appeared. They seemed bored, yet oddly malicious. “We don’t know your name and we don’t care to. We need someone who can take endless abuse for no pay and you volunteered. Curious. But we’re short-staffed and can’t be picky. To prove your worth, review this. ” And they threw me Netherworld Triumphant by Hex A.D. I’d never heard of the band, but for the next two weeks, I listened to the album at least 25 times. I lived it. I breathed it. The review I produced was no Tolstoyan masterpiece, but the score was correct, and I remain weirdly proud of it. Netherworld Triumphant was a cool, bluesy amalgamation of a whole bunch of 70s and 80s hard rock influences, performed by talented musicians having a lot of fun. It wasn’t original, but it worked. It was also my ticket out of the Skull Pit. Now, a mere 15 months later, the Norwegians return with the ridiculously titled Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden. Will this continue the progress shown on Netherworld Triumphant? Or will it suffer from the same complaint my first kiss garnered: too much tongue?

The first noticeable aspect of Astro Tongue is that it offers no major changes to the Hex A.D. formula. The classic influences, from early Sabbath, to later Zep, blended with a whole lotta Cathedral, are all there. As per its zany cover and bizarre title, Astro Tongue is slightly lighter in tone than its predecessors, with the band embracing a more progressive style that favors melody over crunching riffs. First single “Astro Tongue” demonstrates this nicely, focusing on mood and dynamism instead of frantically searching for the next catchy hook. It also highlights the beating heart of Hex A.D.: Rick Hagan’s confident guitar which weaves perfectly with Mags Johasen’s funky, psychedelic mellotron and organ work. Happily, the band has maintained the flexible,  flowing aesthetic which animated Netherworld Triumphant. The variety in tone, tight band work, and shifting dynamism illuminate the first half of the album, resulting in hard rock of the highest order.

One of the criticisms of Hex A.D.‘s previous outout was that its desire to incorporate so many styles from so many influences came at the cost of establishing its own unique identity. It’s impressive to note that while the band is still as eclectic as ever, there is now a clear ‘sound’ which they are slowly making their own. The variety which was evident in previous albums has also been expanded. Whether the band goes full doom and seeks heaviness, (“The Day the Sky Exploded”), or focuses instead on a cheerfully improvisational style (“Hawks and Doves”), the variations are forceful and interesting. More importantly, the sound they create is theirs.

Frustratingly, some minor nitpicks prevent Astro Tongue from being a real AOTM contender. The first is the muddy production. Previous Hex A.D. albums were all produced by Chris Tsangarides, who clearly knew how best to show off the band’s style. Tsangarides sadly passed away recently, and Rick Hagan has taken over production duties. While his effort is admirable, a muddiness pervades the songs, which dulls their impact. In addition, the album’s final tracks (“A Stone for Bodies Not Found,” “Grace and Pain”) are just not as strong as those on the first side, which results in Astro Tongue ending in a disappointing whimper, not a bang.

By virtue of being the first band I ever reviewed, Hex A.D. will forever be close to my heart. While by no means a massive departure from previous works, Astro Tongue is yet another step forward for these talented Norwegians. It embraces all the band’s strengths while incorporating new elements that elevate them to the next level. It is tight, it is eclectic, and most of all, it’s just a ton of fun. It was whisper-close to getting a 4.0, but a disappointing production and some weak songs at the back end unfortunately limit Astro Tongue to a 3.5. Any fan of hard rock, doom, and prog, should take note: if your electric garden needs some astro tongue, Hex A.D. will hit all the right spots.

 


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Fresh Tea Records
Website: facebook.com/hex.a.d
Releases Worldwide: February 21st, 2020

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