Monday, August 27, 2012

Hexvessel: No Holier Temple (2012)

No Holier Temple is the sophomore album of folk project Hexvessel, helmed by Kvohst of a handful of metal bands. There is no shortage of metal musicians taking up folk music on both sides of the Atlantic, with the Europeans tending to go solidly traditional and the Americans taking up country-inspired or Appalachian folk blended with rock sensibilities. That is analogous to what Hexvessel is doing, in updating a relatively modern folk style with rock influence. But their focus on 60’s psychedelic folk makes them more akin to The Devil’s Blood than any of Nuerot’s folk acts.

The band’s debut, Dawnbearer, found Hexvessel struggling to define their voice. A handful of songs were hook-oriented songs that could have been hits among the hippie generation, while a handful more were trance-inducing psychedelic deep cuts that didn’t work nearly as well as intended. But with No Holier Temple, they have clearly found their footing.

The tracks mostly alternate between interludes and real songs. The real songs are a masterful middle ground between the two opposing approaches of the last record, containing both hooks and trance-inducing elements. They are composed primarily of acoustic guitar and clean vocals, though many other elements make their presence known over the course of the album. Perhaps the most important difference is the welcome addition of drums (Dawnbearer sorely felt the lack of percussion). Other instruments include distorted electric guitar (much more than on the debut), accordion, saxophone, organ, violin, and a handful of others. These can be used in unusual ways. Bluesy guitar is paired with accordion on “A Letter in Birch Bark,” to much success. “His Portal Tomb” matches doom with flute in a way that works far better than anyone could expect. (Blood Ceremony could learn a lot from that one.) Prog (“Sacred Marriage”) and Western soundtracks (“Unseen Sun”) are also taken on, all the while staying true to the band’s psych-folk underpinnings.

The numerous interludes can last up to 4 minutes or so, the real songs go upwards of 8-13, and the whole thing clocks in at 57, yet never does it feel like any part of it should have been trimmed. The many dynamic changes, the atmosphere, and the hooks keep the record cohesive and interesting throughout.

Hexvessel have used their sophomore album to carve out their own unique path, expertly. No Holier Temple is a revelation.

The Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Buy No Holier Temple

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