ALBUM REVIEW: HEXVESSEL - POLAR VEIL
WINTRY NOIR ROCK THAT TOUCHES THE VOID
Like a twisted gothic Christmas card, the cover art of Polar Veil depicts an ominous personified miasma of dark night about to engulf an isolated, snowy village. It’s representative of Hexvessel’s curious and beguiling distillation of black metal’s menacing grimness allied with sombre alternative shoe-gaze rock. Like the sleeve art, an ineluctable black metal presence overhangs this record, permanently threatening to over-run the cold post-rock / post-punk reflection but never quite doing so.
The BM influence on Polar Veil is clear but is less about sheer ferocious impact; it eschews stylistic conventions of blast beats and warp speed abrasiveness. Invariably tracks do, however, feature deep-frozen, wolfish tremolo picks that could have been from an old Immortal record. This is more to the rear in the mix, creating an atmospheric backdrop while clean vocal singing and walls of catatonic alternative, almost post-rock, guitars are to the fore. Tracks like The Tundra is Awake shimmer with spindrifts of tremolo, but are fronted with a forlorn waltz-like march and echoed wintry effects.
Polar Veil has a sound as cold as its title. The whole aesthetic is sub-zero and evocative of an endless freezing landscape. The tracks are full of dissonance and echoes giving the sound otherworldly depth yet embellished with skeletal flourishes and brittle, creepy icicle-like keys.
The most oppressive tracks that approach heaviness include perhaps Listen to the River, a baleful slow dirge of clanging walls of post-rock tension. A Cabin in Montana, meanwhile, is an album highlight which swells with noir drama and driving blizzard-like tremolo picks and purposeful crooning vocals. The heaviest of all though is Eternal Meadow, perhaps the most BM inflected – it could almost be Joy Division playing black metal in a pine forest.
It might annoy old school hardcore purists, but the vocals are almost exclusively clean singing. The sonorous delivery on Older Than the Gods is (apart from anguished background shouts) almost like Tom Smith from Editors / Tired Pony with a dash of Morrisey while on Ring it is reminiscent of Robert Smith from The Cure. It adds a unique dimension of vulnerability and tormented austerity to the band’s sound differentiating them from other acts.
Hexvessel are an intriguing and original proposition. Their lush windswept dirges have a baleful, fatalistic undertow. Polar Veil is an exceptionally heavy, but in a psychological sense rather than in terms of simple volume and savagery. It is a brooding winter record of morose majesty that manages a balanced and nuanced combination of post-punk, black metal, bleak psychedelia and folk rock with a kind of epic post-rock sense of scope that is sparse yet rich and emotionally punishing.
Check out Hexvessel on their bandcamp: https://hexvessel.bandcamp.com/album/polar-veil