Tommy Concrete – Hexenzirkel Review

My first thought as my eyes fell upon Hexenzirkel in the promo bin was ‘the year of dumb band names has yet another contender’. But Tommy Concrete1 is not just an ill-conceived band name, it’s the artist name for Tomas Pattinson, whose diverse portfolio includes about a dozen and a half different bands, including a year-long stint in The Exploited. Some years ago his eye turned towards epic prog, because under this moniker he’s churned out at least an album a year since 2016 with music that’s drawn comparisons to Devin Townsend, according to the promo sheet. As a big fan of Hevy Devy, Tommy Concrete now had my curiosity. Apparently, Pattinson is autistic and has synesthesia, a phenomenon where sensory wires get crossed and you see sounds like a personal visualizer, and for Hexenzirkel he used his own neurodivergence as inspiration for his lyrics and included his synesthesia in his composition process. As a fan of personal themes and experimentation in metal, now he had my attention.

And Hexenzirkel certainly swings for the fences to stand out among the crowd, because on the map of genres it landed squarely on the everything. As an umbrella term, it would count to call it progressive or experimental metal, but there’s epic doom (“What Unknown Force”), alt metal (“Practice for the Apocalypse”), industrial (“The Blind Man Shines Light on the Truth”) and melodeath (both final tracks), and that’s just considering metal. Strewn across the 73 minute marathon are traces of flamenco, country, rap, whatever Tom Waits classifies as and more. No less than 6 guest vocalists, including Bryan Ramage of Ramage Inc. and Laura Donnelly of King Witch, and a session drummer by the name of Mandy Dunt join the parade. And when this bizarre concoction works, some very cool ideas spring forth. “What Unknown Force” has a few fantastic, strident vocal performances, and “The Blind Man…” is the most consistent track with a post-apocalyptic industrial heartbeat at the center that reminded me strongly of Tom Waits’ “Hell Broke Luce.”

But that is when the album works, and oh how rarely that occurs. Kitchen sinks are thrown at the wall and it doesn’t seem to matter what sticks, everything is crammed into the overstuffed tracks one way or another. Only one song is under 10 minutes; most should have been 5 or 6. The offal includes, among others, a few too oft-repeated choruses, a lengthy rap bridge, croaky vocoders over weirdly minimalist riffs, out-of-place EDM beats, and an annoying tendency for the lyrics to be recited one syllable at a time that reoccurs several times for some reason. And speaking of vocals: the guests sing together quite often. They never, ever harmonize, however, so every single time this happens it sounds like 3-6 people trying to out-sing the others, and it’s like trying to listen to one conversation at a busy party. It gives the strong impression that everything was recorded in complete isolation and stuck together later on.

I can continue to list ideas that absolutely do not work in any context, but that would be overkill as much as… well, as Hexenzirkel. It’s simply too much of everything. It’s the musical equivalent of Epic Meal Time, a gangly, shuddering, unseemly structure where a few moments happen to work because the right elements came together at the right time, but even those good moments end as more vocal deathmatches are unleashed upon our ears or a 16-bit organ solo kills the mood. Mr. Ramage, who does the production, often seems unable to figure out what to focus on, as the mix can be quite inconsistent. The same goes for the master, where it seems like a roll of the dice whether any particular instrument will sound good or not (for instance, the bass sounds great, but the drums are completely flat).

Aside from a few cool ideas, the best I can say about Hexenzirkel is that it does not get boring. It’s too much of a baffling mess for that, a hoarder’s house of half-baked ideas bound together with dreams and duct tape. Tommy Concrete is clearly incredibly passionate about what he does, and I won’t deny I feel like I’m kicking a puppy over here. But judging by this album, Pattinson is in dire, dire need of a heavy-handed producer with a brutally honest filter to salvage the infinite stream of inspiration he seems to possess.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Howling Invocations
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: June 22nd, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Not to be confused with the masonry company of the same name.
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