Review: Kevin Hufnagel Sends Messages To The Past
The Most Innovative Guitarist In Metal Today shows us how it’s done.
How does one address prodigious guitarist Kevin Hufnagel? Big Kev? Mr Hufnagel? The Huff? Sir Skronkington? The Most Innovative Guitarist In Metal Today? I guess they all work. How to address his incredible work on the instrument is a far more difficult task. Adequately textualising sounds in general is something I’ve struggled with, a problem which is compounded many times over when the artist is as inimitable as the guitarist for such diverse acts as Gorguts, Dysrhythmia, Sabbath Assembly, Vaura.
Grappling with this question over the past few months is part of the reason why this review is publishing the week after the release of his new album Messages To The Past, rather than some time prior. Despite multiple attempts, I’ve simply been unable to find an angle to approach the record with the intent of transposing the complexity of sound and do the music justice. Yes, procrastination is always a prevalent inhibitor, but by far the most obstructive element here is abridging the rich textures to bland text. Maybe that itself is the only suitable angle of attack for an unqualified, unpaid, uninspiring type to use in this circumstance. The ‘no angle’ angle.
Guess I could talk about how K.H has used all manner guitar techniques and innovative approaches to composition in the creation of Messages To The Past. From the first tightly palm-muted repeating layers of the percussive album opener ‘Pulse Controller’, to the immediate contrast offered by ‘Separations” soothing arpeggiated eloquence, it becomes clear that Prof. Huf’s skill on the instrument is only matched by his attention to crafting immersive soundscapes and songs. The exotic end of the tonal spectrum is explored in perhaps the darkest track on the record, and definitely my favourite cut titled ‘The Eyes Of Another’ (embedded below). Constricted palpitations return on ‘Circling The Grave’, eventually ceding to some very soulful lead lines which wouldn’t be far removed from something Joe Satriani would have penned circa 1993. The middle portion of the album displays a dazzling variety of harmonised leads over graceful chord progressions, with the sporadic flurry of shred often utilised as crescendo to cap off some exquisite passage of passionate playing.
So how does Messages To The Past fit in the catalogue of his solo work? With over 10 solo releases spanning two decades, you’d think a pattern could be drawn in such a timeline. However, Kevin’s progression has been anything but linear. What I can say though, is that his past three releases have perhaps more in common with each other than the majority of the preceding material. While he’s previously experimented with ethereal minimalism (Transparencies), avant-garde master manipulations (Backwards Through The Maze), and esoteric Eastern textures (Ashland and Songs For The Disappeared – my personal fave), the direction he set off on last year for The Protected Shards seems to have held over to a degree. Messages To The Past merges those resonant moments with the nostalgic reverence for the soaring 80’s melodic motifs which he adapted on his Halloween covers/tribute EP (His renditions of the Unsolved Mysteries and Phantasm themes ruuuule).
As you may have guessed, recording/production took place at his long-time collaborator Colin Marston‘s Menegroth studio, and as such, sounds amazing. What the record lacks in percussion and vocals is easily recompensed by Kevin’s expressive phrasing, unique note choices, and general guitar mastery.
I don’t know what else to say, except that Messages To The Past ranks up there with his most accessible material to date, offering a sublime soundtrack to transcend the turmoil of modernity and rekindle lost moments of a life bygone.
4.8/5 Eternal Flickering Flames (ov Flatulence…or whatever)