When I look at the cover art for the sophomore full-length, God Has No Name, by Spain’s Hex, I see a hyperbolic metal label distribution PR blurb made pictorial. “Riffs so heavy, so scorching, they splinter the Earth’s crust into black obsidian shards,” it declares. Straight-faced, it adds “A sound so singularly malignant, it tears a hole in the very heavens above. As it rends the firmament, fire erupts from blah blah blah,” you get the point. Now, I’m not saying this to take anything away from the actual artwork, made by a fellow who goes by the name Warbanner. It’s an impressively detailed illustration of the kind of apocalyptic scenario that metal has long hung its hat on. What I’m saying is, it’s extra, even by metal standards. If I were a casual listener, this may enhance my enjoyment of the album in an unexamined way. But as a reviewer, and further, one who is also a visual artist, I hold the image up to the music and say “well hello there, thesis.”
Before we get to the question of whether the music matches up to the image semiologically, let’s talk about what Hex brings to the table as a band just emerging onto the scene. God Has No Name is seven tracks and a trim 37 minutes of old school death metal mixed with doom, building its sonic assault on the foundation laid by Incantation, diSEMBOWELMENT and to a lesser degree Paradise Lost. Aside from a sharp, contemporary sounding production and some slight layering of effects and samples, this album could have dropped in 1994 to relative acclaim and zero suspicion of time travel. The band sounds tight as they work their way through beefy riffs and the occasional guitar solo. Bassist Endika is prominent in the mix throughout as a supplemental percussive element, sounding like a steady pneumatic hammer operating behind the other instruments. A perfect example comes at the midpoint of “Soulsculptor,” when the mid-paced—and pretty vanilla—death doom of the first half gives way to an upbeat groove with popping bass that carries the song to a more successful end.
But is the frenetic, violent and meticulously beautiful cover image a good representation of the musical content of God Has No Name? If we read it like my PR blurb analogy, not really. Sure this is heavy and violent, but for extreme metal it’s pretty standard. In fact, to my ears, this is meat and taters OSDM laced with mid-paced doom that for the most part lumbers along effectively, but unremarkably. That said, there is a way the music is well represented by the image. If you unfocus your eyes and stop looking at the minute details, you’ll see a composition that is mostly gray with a few streaks of color and spots of contrast, and that is very much how I see God Has No Name. The first three tracks “Thy Kingdom Come,” “Soulsculptor,” and Worshipping Falsehood,” in particular, are starchy death doom diet staples that have heft and groove, but little memorability.
At the album’s midpoint, the memorability quotient does tick up, but it’s (temporarily) for the wrong reason. “Daevangelism – The Dark Sunset” begins with an audio sample of a preacher giving a sermon on a “New Jerusalem,” where Indians and British alike are unified as the people of God, which is a bit puzzling from a Spanish band unless there’s a connection I’m missing. It goes on for way too long, and transitions into one of the most static riff cycles found on the album. Fortunately, this is followed immediately by the album’s clear highlight, “Where Gods Shall Not Reign,” which displays much more striking songwriting and a fine guest vocal performance by a mystery woman who unfortunately goes uncredited on any materials available at the time of writing. Final songs “Apocryphal” and “All Those Lies that Dwells…” (sic) continue the upward trend in songwriting and inject a welcome dose of energy with more upbeat, driving riffs.
There is nothing especially wrong, indeed there is much to enjoy, in Hex‘s debut. But what it isn’t is a finely detailed, subtly rendered, dynamic image of apocalyptic destruction. For that matter, it isn’t the unique re-invention of a genre the actual PR blurb attached breathlessly declared it. That said, people inclined toward doom-laden OSDM will find chunky riffs and clattering drums aplenty, and when it finds its groove, it flashes plenty of potential for the band’s future.