Hexvessel - Iron Marsh [Svart Records - 2013]Unlike most of his compatriots who spend their lives ignoring their continental neighbours but relocate to France or Spain once they’ve had enough of Albion’s climes, English musician Mathew McNerney decided to head to Finland in 2009 to pursue his creative outbursts.
Then again, the 35-year old man probably isn’t your typical Englishman. Not content of taking care of vocal duties on Dødheimsgard’s 2007 ‘Supervillain Outcast’, co-founding Anglo-Norwegian black metal unit Code or lending his pipes to international grindcore act Gangrenator, he also found the time and energy to hone in his guitar skills in the company of Portuguese-Dutch black metallers Israthoum, sing for avant-garde metal band Decrepit Spectre and lend his name to many another, mostly heavy-hitting project. Taking into consideration the sheer width and breadth of the man’s past output, the stylistic jump from avant-garde black metal to progish folkery doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.
Hexvessel is the name of the psychedelic eco-doom-folk band he formed with partner-in-crime Andrew McIvor and a bunch of locals after dropping anchor in Helsinki. Over the course of two acclaimed albums, 2011’s ‘Dawnbearer’ and 2012’s ‘No Holier Temple’, and a gorgeous-looking seven inch, the band have managed to establish quite a reputation both on record and on the live stage. Their last album sold out within a month of release and landed them a gig at the prestigious Roadburn festival in Tilburg, Holland, with some over-enthused journo going as far as dubbing them the Black Sabbath of this decade.
‘Iron Marsh’, the newest five-song EP from the band, will be released in early May on Turku’s Svart Records – as is the case of their previous output – and features no less than half an hour of brand new material to sink one’s teeth into. Staying true to the formula that’s earned them their much respected stripes over the last few years, Mathew and his tree-hugging friends once again offer a remarkably fresh-sounding fusion of 60s acid folk, proto-doom and krautrock, the whole sprinkled with the kind of shamanistic mysticism which only the land of the thousand lakes can apparently inspire.
The trumpet-laden faux-doom of thirteen-minute opening track ‘Masks of the Universe’ does a good job at evoking the ghost of 70s Pink Floyd before veering into a violinesque and key-drenched frenzy that sounds like the missing link between Amon Düül II and Queens of the Stone Age. Despite its length, it never overstays its welcome, as each successive listen reveals a new aspect of its rich sonic tapestry. ‘Superstitious Currents’ is a ballad-y type of song whose outdated melancholic charm gives it a tremendous pop appeal and which allows Mathew to showcase just how good of a vocalist he really is. It also makes for a nice stylistic break before ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’ picks up the psycho-doom thread, albeit infused with a heavy dose of 70s musicality.
Following song ‘Woman of Salem’ offers a fairly solid take on Yoko Ono’s 1973 feminist classic, not least thanks to a very inspired vocal contribution by psychedelic diva Rosalie Cunningham (Ipso Facto, Purson), who turns its haunting finale into one of the record’s highlights. Closing the proceedings in – somewhat – lighter fashion is ‘Don’t Break the Curse’, which features flute work by Blood Ceremony’s acid doom front-woman Alia O’Brien. It offers a more up-tempo version of Hexvessel’s sylvan folk and is at times nothing short of foot-stomping material of the left-hand persuasion.
Its eyes firmly set in the rear-view mirror, ‘Iron Marsh’ represents yet another milestone in the band’s catalogue and, more generally, a very fine representative of the sort of witching folk that went out of fashion way too soon when it first came around about four decades ago and is now being revisited by talented units such as these. Add to that a flawless production job, mix with some brilliant artwork and you get a very highly-recommended release, indeed.