Hexvessel – Kindred Review

Finnish forest folk band Hexvessel‘s music conjures images of druids and deep, misty woods, and I’ve been a fan since Steel covered No Holier Temple. I love this sort of mystical folk-influenced music, a genre my partner describes as “witchy music.” Right after I wrote about All Tree, I saw them play an enchanting show in an incense-steeped church in London. And now, of course, we’re all stuck in quarantine and unable to actually go wander in the woods. You’d think, then, that I should be excited for another album. Unfortunately, I had somewhat mixed feelings about All Tree, and here on album number five only a year after the last, the specter of AMG’s Law of Diminishing Recordings looms large.

Right from the start, Hexvessel do what they do best: establish that forest atmosphere. Here on Kindred, the atmosphere and themes are bleaker than previously—there are druidic rituals and sacrifice in these woods. Frontman Mat McNerny’s vocals are haunted and chant-like, Jesse Heikkinen’s guitars and Kimmo Helén’s keys and strings sparse and ominous, all over Jukka Rämänen’s solemn ritual drumbeat. Seven-minute opening track “Billion Year Old Being” shows Hexvessel at their best, flowing between moods. Expertly navigated from the spooky opening melodies through a dark worship chant and occult 60s keyboard jam to a final movement like dark clouds parting, it somehow never feels incoherent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album is never quite able to recapture that magic. The songs get shorter, their composition more straightforward, their moods more consistently bleak. Where “Billion Year Old Being” moves and changes, later songs drag. I start having trouble telling them apart as many follow an almost identical structure. There’s a sparse instrumental opening—maybe an acoustic guitar or a piano—over which mournful vocals join. Halfway through the song, drums and rhythm instrumentation come in. (“Fire of the Mind,” “Bog Bodies,” “Kindred Moon,” …) This wouldn’t be the worst thing if the songs were memorable in other ways, but the emphasis on atmosphere seems to have also come at the cost of catchy or interesting melodies. This isn’t something I’ve really felt with previous Hexvessel albums. Somehow, despite such homogeneous songs, it also manages to have pacing issues. There are two short interludes. “Sic Luceat Lux” is a jangly oddity, sounding unpleasantly like a guitar cover of the clocks chiming in Floyd‘s “Time.” “Family” is a more traditional acoustic guitar piece. These bracket a single short track, “Phaedra,” entirely shredding its momentum.

In a more varied setting, some of these pieces would be worth keeping. While none quite touch the opening track, I enjoy the callback to When We Are Death‘s more straightforward 60s rock on “Demian” and the insistent feeling of “Phaedra.” “Kindred Moon” is perhaps the best of the most consistently composed songs, feeling a bit more like the majority of Hexvessel‘s back catalog. The whole thing sounds wonderful too, helped by a clear and dynamic master by John Davis. Their wide range of instruments all sound great, particularly the drums, which are powerful but never dominating. It never feels cluttered despite all the moving parts.

Where Hexvessel have set out to conjure an atmosphere, they have succeeded as adroitly as ever. Sadly, Kindred otherwise suffers from exactly the sort of problems you’d expect when it’s only been a year since the last album. There are good ideas in here, and in particular “Billion Year Old Being” is as good as they’ve ever been. But there’s just not enough material to sustain a 40-minute LP, and some of what there is lacks polish. Had this been an EP follow-up to All Tree, as Iron Marsh was to No Holier Temple, or just given more time to develop, it could have been great. But as it is, the strong atmosphere and the good bits aren’t enough to support the weight of all that filler.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Svart Records
Websites: hexvessel.bandcamp.com | hexvessel.com | facebook.com/hexvessel
Releases Worldwide: April 17th, 2020

« »