Even the most avowed urban dweller among us can be a tree-hugger on occasion. Despite our loves of city living, of gigs and bars and bright lights, who among us wouldn't turn down the chance to escape into the woods, and to hear the whisper of the winds through the leaves and feel all the anxieties of modern life fall away? Especially now with many of us quarantined in our homes, and many routines disrupted in the face of a very global pandemic; the closest to the collapse of the modern world as we've known for generations. Perhaps it's all the spare time to contemplate and philosophise that means Hexvessel is more listenable than ever on 'Kindred', their latest incantation of throwback folk mysticism now clashing with an ever-modern world.
For the last decade the Finnish musicians have taken the most melancholy of folk music and attached it to a psychedelic dreamlike atmosphere, never quite fitting into any modern genre, but you will know the feeling in your bones: of dances round the Maypole and long summer evenings in the countryside, the smell of the harvest and the singing of the birds. They've always had a sense of spirituality and serenity that's intoxicating in this hurly burly world, especially on last year's 'All Tree' which was intoxicatingly idyllic. Perhaps due to providence, this is a fitting record for the strange times we live in; a nervy record that's worried about the world and the changes that have been wrought. 'Billion Year Old Being' is a storming opening, as if they've emerged from the forests to a world of smokestacks and fast food and fast living, then had a crash course in guitar amplification, and then asked “So, how do you feel? Oh and by the way your favourite brough is now a carpark”. There's a certain element of King Crimson's angst in the off-kilter time signatures and stabbing Moog chords, before returning to acoustic type for the second half and the rest of the record. It's clear all is not well in the world of Hexvessel. With this one-two whiplash, it's not even a surprise when 'Damien' turns out to be a dark country blues number and then again an arpeggio guitar plucking and mournful musings of “death is centrifugal/solar and logical/decadent and symmetrical/angels are mathematical” on 'Fire Of The Mind' returns to their roots, but any naïvety they have is gone. It's the interlude 'Sic Luceat Lux's broken up and cut up strings and bells combination that let you know the state of discord, and the ominous drums of 'Phaedra' feel like you're caught in a Wickerman-style procession where the result will be blood spilled. “I have strength, I fear nothing,” goes the mantra. “If the world perishes I will not perish” It defiantly continues, as the horns swell up behind the cello and a sinister guitar lead snakes its way in and around.
Whether by accident or design, 'Kindred' has come along at a perfect time. The world is unsettled and quite possibly, we are nostalgic for simpler times, which is why Hexvessel have been so absorbing before, both for their rich musical tapestry and the gentle souls they have. The former still holds true as ever more elements are added to the forest folk's brew, but now they're infused with a modern anxiety along with the arcane. To remove any doubt, it's a brilliant record, and perhaps the best they've done in terms of dynamic songwriting and richness in narrative poetry. We can never truly escape our rotes to go back to our roots, but with Hexvessel there is a way to touch the pagan divine rather then the capitalist divide.
'Kindred' is out now via Svart