October Roundup: Hail Conjurer, Hexenbrett, & Napalm Death
A mixed bag of crude black metal, noise rock ‘n’ post-punk inflicted grind, Townes van Zandt and spoopy Halloween metalcyful fate.
Hail Conjurer – Carnal Light
Only a few years down the line, the hideous, brusque and sloppy black metal of Hail Conjurer has already made the Hooded Menace vocalist’s solo project something of a name in the Finnish underground. Hail Conjurer has played some solo gigs growling over nothing but crude synths, so it should perhaps not be a great surprise that on Carnal Light they’ve become integrated into the project’s arsenal, and play a pivotal role on the record.
It can be difficult to get a good grip from the homewrought sound, sloppy playing and simple compositions—especially since taken as a whole, Carnal Light, and Hail Conjurer by and large, seem to be a caveat directed rather towards the underground. It’s a reminder that it’s not supposed to be a circle jerk and that no matter how small the circle is, art is never supposed to please everyone. Whether Hail Conjurer has been successful in this, or whether there’s a point to be taken is another debate, but I’ve always found its crude approach to first wave-ish black metal endearing and now, as the palette has been drastically improved with the addition of synths, I find it even more so.
Certainly an acquired taste, Carnal Light, and it doesn’t aim to please. There’s surprisingly little going for it in terms of riffs, and the blunt songwriting means the record relies on the overall atmosphere conjured, and the charm of the approach itself, rather than single songs. This makes it even more difficult to get a hold of Hail Conjurer’s music, but the wider palette and better consistency throughout the album make Carnal Light the best Hail Conjurer so far and one of the more endearing albums of 2020.
Hexenbrett – Zweite Beschwörung: Ein Kind zu Töten
It hasn’t been more than a few months since I described Hexenbrett’s Erste Beschwörung as a mix of Mercyful Fate -inspired, blackened heavy metal that drew a little either from, or from the same sources as, Malokarpatan and stuck it all into a blender with deathrock. In truth, it had been out for quite a while by then, so Zweite Beschwörung is hardly a rush job. It is, unfortunately, less than what I had hoped for after the EP.
Some of the most obvious Mercyful Fate influence has been faded to the background and the band/duo(?) has failed to fill the void in riffing that it’s left. The tremolo-picked runs up and down the fretboard, the rocking rhythms and the less charismatic riffs are on their own quite a bit less memorable than “Hexen (bis aufs Blut gequält)” or “Sie Fliegen!” and even after several spins the only things that stick are the choruses of “La Tumba De Los Muertos Vivientes” and “Le Requiem Des Vampires”.
None of the influences from the debut have been lost, but the way they’re being applied has changed, leaving more room for the spooky horror synths and the unsettling atmosphere highlighted with a few noisy but nimble solos, the make or break of this record, and mostly they make it. Creepy and a little obscene, it’s easy to sink in to Zweite Beschwörung‘s atmosphere and the songwriting has been fleshed out so that on the full-length debut Hexenbrett’s own identity is a little clearer.
Though drawing from a variety of distinct influences, it’s a coherent record and the influences don’t come off at the seams; everything can be heard at all times giving the songs a unified sound. The band uses several languages for their lyrics (German, Italian, Czech, Spanish and France, even English on “The Spider Song,” a Townes van Zandt cover), but it never feels like the vocalist is jumping from one language to another, though they are mostly discernible between a few inhuman-sounding shrieks and noises.
This isn’t just a strength though, as the difficulties distinguishing between compositions makes it even more difficult to remember much from a record that’s already suffering from the lack of memorability. It feels like they’ve got the sound and character down now, but I hope they can nail the songs on the next one.
Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
It’s been 5 long years since Apex Predator – Easy Meat dropped, but in truth it feels much less so. Much of this can be attributed to the Coded Smears and Uncommon Slurs double-compilation featuring rarities, bonus tracks, splits, EPs and the like, many of the songs from which I had not heard, or else in passing, making for much “new” Napalm Death material to discover. Though some of it is undoubtedly thanks to Embury staying constantly above the radar with his myriad of projects that have released material since, including but not limited to Born to Murder the World, Lock Up, Tronos & Venomouos Concept. That’s to say I hadn’t quite yet begun to yearn for new material from Napalm Death themselves, even if I found myself welcoming the Logic Ravaged by Brute Force EP earlier this year Creed-style.
Throes of Joy… marks a few changes for the band, the most obvious of which is the involvement of guitarist Mitch Harris. He’s been absent from the band’s live line-up for a good many years now, beyond his original reasons of stepping aside due to family health issues, and it seems he will continue to be absent once things clear enough for the band to tour again. He did, however, record guitars for the record, although I’m told his replacement John Cooke also made some contributions, but he chose to sit out of the songwriting process, marking a historic first time Shane Embury handled all of the composing.
The backbone of the record is still formed by the grindiest material, though mixed with dissonance and mid-tempo thrash riffs, much as has been the band’s way in the 21st century, though the dissonance has made its way further into the band’s core. None of this material relies on nonstop blasting, and even the shortest songs on the album track two-and-a-half minutes, though anyone familiar with the band’s last 20 or so years should know to expect as much. What is different from the last couple records is that said material features neither hits nor the record’s strongest songs. Opener “Fuck the Factoid” and the title track make for the most outright furious moments and get the most out of this approach, and prove that Napalm Death can still reach heights with their grind many are only left to dream of, but others, like “Zero Gravitas Chamber”, make for little else than a feeling of “been there, done that, and a thousand times better”.
“The Curse of Being in Thrall”, “Fluxing of the Muscle” and “Acting in Gouged Faith” fare well and help tie the regressive and progressive halves of the record together, but only the comparatively sluggish and forceful “Contagion” feels up to the level you’d expect from the band after Utilitarian and Apex Predator – Easy Meat. They aren’t bad songs though, it’s just that they’re so standard fare Napalm Death by now, it’s hard to get excited by them, especially when modern classics and earworms à la “The Wolf I Feed” and “How the Years Condemn” shine bright in the particular way absent things have a tendency to shine, as if to announce their lack of presence. “Backlash Just Because” at least feels like it’s got both of its legs in the band’s future, and would’ve gone together so well with “Logic Ravaged by Brute Force” I would’ve by far preferred its inclusion over some of the others.
Make no mistake though, I enjoy Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, and it’s because Embury has given more and more room for their noise rock and industrial influences. “Joie De Ne Pas Vivre” features very little in the way of guitars, only some pick scraping noises and such, composed of a clanging bass and some of the most menacing vocals they’ve put to tape in a very long time over a hectic beat, effects and ambiance that give it an industrial feel. The following “Invigorating Clutch” takes the noise rock influence, adds a dash of post-punk and runs it through the same filter Napalm Death uses for their mid-tempo tracks, while “Amoral” turns the same dials straight to 11. It still sounds like Napalm Death, like Napalm death in 2020 anyways, but finally allows for some influences that have only briefly flashed their teeth in the past to break through for good. And I can only hope that placing “A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen”, which makes away with practically everything associated with the band’s sound in favour of their new influences and ties together with Easy Meat’s “Dear Slum Landlord”, means that they’re not about to go away, even if it costs them another Harris.
Several different versions exist with different bonus tracks, of which “Air’s Turned Foul in Here” I haven’t heard, but is already a favourite of mine thanks to its title. The album’s not short as is, and the additional tracks only serve to drag it out with lesser material, so I’d recommend skipping them. Especially annoying is “Feral Carve-up” placed right in the middle of the album, and though also not a bad song on its own, it’s a pretty tiresome one and the kind you’d expect Embury to fart out in his sleep, so it’s fairly obvious why it didn’t make the cut, while the rest are covers, of which “White Kross” was already featured on the Logic… EP, and I must say that releasing a double-album of rarities and B-sides, quickly followed by several to-be rarities and an EP that doesn’t feature them is bloody annoying. But the meat of Throes… is quite good, if their obvious desire to move on with their sound is beginning to clash with their more conservative material in ways that flatters neither.