The human tongue is a fascinating organ. A muscular hydrostat, this slick wedge is a capable tool that can fold, contract and lengthen at will to crush and manipulate food during the mastication process. The tongue is also a vital component of speech — and by extension singing — allowing a wide array of sounds to articulate the misery and majesty that is the human condition. The Hirsch Effekt are German natives and choose to scream, grunt, and croon in their mother tongue on their latest album, Eskapist. Drawing from a variety of influences such as math-metal, metalcore, industrial, prog and even pop, The Hirsch Effekt aren’t afraid to challenge convention, but in doing so, they run the risk of being swallowed by their own ambition. The inclusion of a bold language like German could prove to be a volatile addition to an already fractious mix or it could be the epoxy that holds everything together. A salivating proposition.
The mish-mash of genres on Eskapist brings a manic energy that gives the appearance of breathless chaos, a white-knuckled plunge into a confronting schizophrenia. There’s a reason for the flared nostrils as The Hirsch Effekt have an armoury of axes to grind on the album. Xenophobia, alcoholism, far-right populism and failed relationships serve as gristle for the mill, executed via complex song writing, abrupt chord changes and heavily layered instrumentation. Hearing this, you would be forgiven for assuming a bloated lineup with enough band members to fill out a soccer team, so it may be surprising to hear that The Hirsch Effekt are a three-piece. I’ll admit the thought never crossed my mind once inaugural track “Lifnej” roared into life, a densely-packed barrage of aggression and sharp angles. The snapping jaws and flying spittle is right out of the Dillinger Escape Plan playbook, with the battery-acid histrionics of SikTh and Melt Banana thrown in for good measure. A fantastic way to open an album, provided your VO2 max is a sufficient level to keep your heart from rupturing.
“Aldebaran” offers a similar refrain, leaning heavily into the math-metal side of things while adding a few Faith No More-tinged breakdowns into the fray. “Natans” shifts gears somewhat, tendering an exploratory, inquisitive tone that reminded me of Björk at times. This is due to the vocal elasticity of frontman Nils Wittrock, a very capable singer possessed of a range that allows anything from a maudlin falsetto to guttural spoken word. It’s the latter that fascinates, the German pronunciation giving the vocals a unique and tantalizing contour that separates them from the standard regimen. Wittrock shapes his vowels with care but like Rammstein’s Till Lindemann, it’s the rich, wet consonants formed by the dance of the tongue and epiglottis that arrests the senses and adds real character to the music. The Teutonic predilection for glottal stops deserves all the praise here.
Harmonizing the nuanced vocals and dense composition requires a deft hand and responsibility for this rests with industry veteran Tim Tautorat. Instruments are crystal clear in the mix without any one element dominating to spoil the balance. I would have preferred a wider dynamic range to limit some of the glassiness that creeps in when the music reaches a fevered pitch but it’s to be expected from such a modern production. Where matters start to unspool on Eskapist is The Hirsh Effekt’s tendency to stretch the tracks beyond their use by date, bloating the running time and sapping patience. I scribbled down “too long” in my notes so many times it began to resemble a bizarro-world version of an online dating profile. “Berceuse” by contrast contains none of the self-indulgent proclivity on other cuts, punctuating pockets of silence with short, sharp strumming and restrained vocals plucked from the early career of Dredg. It’s clear that The Hirsh Effekt are capable of wielding the scalpel but lack the constitution to draw blood.
It’s hard not to be impressed with Eskapist, the instrumental virtuosity is dazzling and the songs vary in tempo and style enough to prevent them from sliding into a haze of homogeneity. It’s a pity that the band rambles and repeat themselves like a doddering relative but the goodwill learnt from the rest of the record is reason enough to push past the tedium. Hopefully, on future releases, The Hirsh Effekt take heed from the advice given to precious writers and learn to kill their darlings. I have no doubt the trio can pull it together as theirs is a voice worth listening to.