Hexvessel – No Holier Temple Review

Hexvessel // No Holier Temple
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Music for the other kind of bake off.
Label: Svart Records
Websites: hexvessel.tumblr.com | myspace.com
Release Dates: Out worldwide on 09.14.2012

In our continuing effort to report on bands NOBODY ever heard of, I bring you the unusual sounds and stylings of Hexvessel. No Holier Temple is the sophomore outing by this strange outfit which self-describes as “Finnish psychedelic forest folk.” Naturally you ask “what does Finnish psychedelic forest folk sound like?” Since I can’t say “no comment” or “next question,” I’ll do my best to answer. Hexvessel operates in a sound-space somewhere in the middle of The Mantle-era Agalloch, Woods of Ypres, symphonic, string-based chamber music, the softer side of Opeth and Scandinavian folk metal, while also incorporating a good deal of 60s and 70s hippie rock. Does that clear things up? Yeah, I figured it wouldn’t. Basically, this is a tripped-out, experimental album taking bits and pieces of metal, jazz, folk and 60’s acid rock, throwing it all in a bong and having a maniacal wake-and-bake. Some moments sound like The Mommas & the Poppas, others like Pink Floyd, Kansas, Pentagram, post-black metal and bizarro pagan rituals. It’s a generally sedate, tranquil journey and at many points, it won’t even register on your handy-dandy Metal Meter™ (think Magic 8-Ball but instead of advice, it calls you “poser” or “glam bitch”). As eclectic and odd as this is, No Holier Temple is quite a pleasant excursion into sonic weirdness and it’s tailor-made for a long night of chemical enhanced lava lamp peeping (which I’m not advocating in any way). I doubt it will satisfy those looking for angry, hard metal, but it has a charm I can’t easily dismiss and I have to admit, I dig it.

The album is composed of fairly long main songs and short, transitional pieces that tend to bleed into one other and generate a kind of gentle ryhthmic flow. Things begin with an appropriately mood-drenched introduction titled “Heaven and Earth Magic.” It’s all soft, whispered vocals, gently strummed acoustic guitar and the feeling of magical incantations and rituals. It drifts into “Woods to Conjure” and things really get interesting. It has a soothing, trace-like pace that walks the line between Damation-era Opeth and early Pink Floyd. There’s a folky quality to it but also a trippy drugged out vibe and plenty of muted saxophone to boot. There’s also vague ritualistic element to the piece, with ethereal background chants and a general strangeness. Good stuff! “Letter in Birch Bark” has a very quiet, Heritage-style 70s vibe along with a Dead Can Dance sense of floating melody and calm emotion. Not metal in the least, but still quality music with the ability to transfix the listener (especially the lead at 1:29).

Shaking things up, “His Portal Tomb” brings in big doom/drone riffs that could have been on a Pentagram or even a Neurosis album. Don’t think it’s a doom song though, for it quickly leaps to peace and love 60’s hippie rock and at times veers into new age-y instrumental weirdness. It’s alternately hypnotic, calming, heavy and strange but it flows well and ends with tons of chanting and fuzzed out, psychedelic leads. While oddball transition “Are You Coniferous” sounds like a circus freak show merged with Moulin Rogue, “Sacred Marriage” is a very addicting example of lazy, unhurried, lush song craft with simple riffs that exude emotion and feeling. With violins, keys and chants, it sounds like Grayceon mixed with Nightwish and Falkenbach. The vocals are delicate, plaintive and beautiful and it all gels to near perfection. That said, it isn’t remotely close to what 99% of the public would view as metal.

As endearing as a lot of No Holier Temple is, it loses some focus on the back-end and the mega-long “Unseen Sun” really begins to drag half way through its thirteen minutes. Closer “Your Head is Reeling” (a cover of a song by Ultimate Spinach, and no, I have no fucking idea who that is) is more linear and instant, but lacks the charm of the earlier material.

The cohesive constant throughout the album is Matt McNerney. His vocals anchor the trippy, meandering songs and he really impressed me with his emotional (albeit super mellow) singing. His often frail, soft delivery never comes close to any type of “heavy metal vocals,” but he carries the listener along with his peaceful, almost haunting style from the 60s and it’s largely him that makes these strange songs almost instantly accessible, despite the length of some of them. The diverse guitar work from Vesa and Simo bring to life the Woodstock era but also reference doom, drone and even flirt with black metal (from across a crowded room). Addng to the charm of the album, Jussi’s organ and keyboard work touches on The Doors as well as other features of 60s and early 70s rock.

Worth noting is the production here. It sounds do-it-yourself and I doubt these guys had a big budget, but it comes across like an authentic, organic, honest, made-in-the-70s release. It retains a feeling of the mysterious and arcane and the whole thing reeks of mystic forests and wood gnomes (as depicted on a tricked out van from 1972 with copious smoke billowing from the windows).

Overall, this is a nice surprise from a total unknown. While it isn’t metal in the traditional sense, it sure is interesting and moody. If you like offbeat music like Grayceon or just want something to simulate a near overdose of non-salad variety mushrooms (still not advocating!), this is the good stuff. Here’s to a shroom with a view. Peace, frog.

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