Review: Hexvessel – 'When We Are Death'

When you hear the term ‘Psychedelic Forest Folk’ to describe the album ‘When We Are Death’ by Finnish band Hexvessel, how can you not be interested? This is the third album by the band fronted by Mat McNerney, who I always knew as Kvohst, the vocalist for Norwegian black metallers Dødheimsgard. For those who have heard him perform on their 2007 release, ‘Supervillain Outcast’, prepare yourself for a jump of some light year distance in musical style to the forest land of Hexvessel.

Before we start, this album is one of the most intimate, involved, and deep albums I have heard in some time. We all have them in our collection, and they are the albums that we put on when we want to listen to the music and appreciate what the band have done. This album is perfectly psychedelic, and the fact that the band is fronted by a British dude, who lived in Norway, but now has a Finnish band, producing a mid-60s US west coast sound, is quite amazing. The forest folk component comes from the lyrics, which are about the feelings evoked by living in an environment removed from society and just being involved with nature. This is no homage to the tree hugger though. It is dark, brooding, and malevolent.

So, I’m going to recommend that you seek out this band and give this album a chance. Let me tell you why by picking out 5 songs from the 11 tracks available. The second track on the album is ‘Earth Over Us’, and is smack bang in the middle of San Francisco in the late 60’s psychedelic folk period. The lyrics:

“This sacred tree will grow through you, the shape of your branches will start to show, When the dawn of man fades all flesh will turn to hay, won’t you lay the earth over us?”

It’s a beautiful song. Part prophecy and part warning, but all cosmic truth… apparently. The song reflects the belief that we will have to return to nature at some point either as willing participants or without choice. It’s a perfectly charming, delicately crafted song, with a dark, mean backbone.

The fifth song ‘Mirror Boy’ starts with the line:

“Can you see into the future Mirror Boy, Can you see the day that I will die?”

Are we invoking the supernatural, or just the natural world that we have ignored? Well, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, that this is the most haunting song on the album, and it could go on for an hour, as the time is irrelevant listening to this. It is wholly absorbing, sinister, and at times unsettling. Conjuring murder, suicide, arson, theft, madness… The Mirror Boy is broken by the responsibility of predicting all of the hate and death that is being dealt out… all too much for a child, but we still want him to predict our fate, irrespective of how shattered it leaves him. I did say it was dark!

Want a bit of levity? Too bad! Deeper into the forest we go, and:

“I reside in a grave that isn’t mine, if you can hear my words you will find where my bones hide”

This is ‘Teeth Of The Mountain’, and it’s the linkage of us with nature. It might be from the grave that the lyrics are coming, but he is still by her side, given the inter-connectedness of the Universe. After listening to this album every day since I got my hands on it, about 4 weeks ago, I have no doubt that this is how the Universe works. In fact, if the Universe produces music like this, then sign me up. Talking about the music, if you’ve ever watched the 4 hour documentary on Woodstock then this will be no stranger to you.

For fans of the author Robert Holdstock, the creator of Mythago Wood, the lyrics of ‘Green Gold’ may have been written by the late, great author. People becoming trees through making masks of the bark, and counting their lives through the rings of their growth, growing up from the dust knowing we will all return there. Morbid it might appear, but the balance on these songs is just perfect. There are overdriven guitars taking us through a slow-paced painting of the forest scene. Two lovers becoming infinite through giving themselves to the forest, one Green, and one Gold. They have no problem with it but it doesn’t hide the whole malignant feel of dying now to live for ever.

…and then its one of favourites on this album, and if we have trees, then surely we must have mushrooms, perhaps some of them magic? ‘Mushroom Spirit Doors’ is probably the most upbeat song on the album, and it’s also the most psychedelic. Taking mushrooms is a lottery, and you might just be after a hit, but we are warned that:

“Some of them want to intoxicate you, some of them control your mind, some may want to take you to the grave, some of them want you to die, some just want to talk to you or just see through your eyes”

I won’t be able to look at a mushroom without thinking that they are a potential assassin, particularly those that contain the souls of the dead that are seeking revenge! I kid you not. The outro on this song is a classic early 70’s groove of washed out guitar, and it bookends a great track.

This album, in my understanding of what I have listened to over 4 weeks, is a masterpiece of concept and creation. One listen is not enough. In fact, if you come to this recording without an open mind, then you are not giving it enough respect. Get it, put on headphones, and get yourself a quiet spot – just listen. Musically, it is spot on, in terms of the genre of music and the era that it evokes. This is not a concept album, but it flows from song to song in such a way that it creates a world of bark, clay, and tangled forest. It’s never too confronting, and never too tepid. Is it possible for an album to be a soundtrack to a thought, a soundtrack with no movie? Don’t know. Don’t care. I love it.

Review: Craig Grant


Check Also

Review: Hexvessel – 'All Tree'

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *