Hexvessel – When We Are Death (2016)

Hexvessel are Finnish symphonic occult rock, which can sometimes sound like new wave and dark rock, as well as straight progressive rock and that’s fine with me. Obviously this one got my attention right from the start as many have this January and I was singing right along with it when “Cosmic Truth” (4:32) came in with a saccharine yet sorrow filled vibe that just felt real to me. These guys aren’t the biggest band in the world by any stretch of the imagination, so they didn’t rush to put songs together and phone it in as do some of the more popular rock acts out there. There’s a definite Grateful Dead and The Doors influence here, but I was never able to get into the Dead or The Doors as much as I am here for some odd and perhaps unknowable reason. I should also mention that this intensely personal album comes from songwriter Mat McNerney of Grave Pleasures (formerly Beastmilk) which definitely explains why I’m feeling that new wave vibe on the record as well. But one thing about When We Are Death is how it doesn’t seem to stick with the same territory. Perhaps “When I Am Dead” (4:38) will sound like a rush of acid-soaked psychedelia, while “Mirror Boy” (4:17) will come right after it with a remarkably downtrodden and almost darkwave sounding piece, complete with what sounds like a UFO whirling in the background and sound fonts that sound right out of a fifties film noir. But that’s just the kind of album that it is, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Folks, we’re talking about a record with tracks named “Mushroom Spirit Doors” (5:32) and “Transparent Eyeball” (5:28) on it, so it may be better if you don’t think too much about this one, else you’ll get a headache. Truly, When We Are Death is more of a personal spiritual journey, which we are gifted to take a part in and I’d see it no other way.

I’m absolutely thrilled that this is indeed, like Moore’s Promethea; a spiritual journey that just happened to also have become a piece of artwork and would normally be a private sort of working that the artist wanted to keep to themselves. As I myself am also working on a very personal album, I can understand how the songs tie in very much to your very being and mean things to you that no one else will ever understand. Don’t kid yourself, it is a very occult work and removed far from the rampant silliness of devil worship that we see propagated through the rock industry. It can be the sort of ritual that I’d compare Bowie’s Blackstar release to, and I feel that it holds the same significance to McNerney that Bowie’s swansong left reverberating upon the entire world. I’d also be an absolute fool to tell you that Bowie and the Beatles at their most experimental aren’t also referenced here, because the music conveys such a stream of facts with a ridiculously blunt manner. When We Are Dead is an immensely private work, which ends with a very haunting note in “Shaman You” which seems to deal with McNerney’s experience in studying under a magician who he thought was a fraud. The song repeats over and over “You are a false magician” and will undoubtedly be used to troll in occult groups for several years to come, especially due to the excessively blunt nature in which he outright repeats the phrase. Though that might not have been the original intention, magick can be used for both benevolent and nefarious purposes as such may very well be done with such an unexpected and rather negative tune. But I honestly hope that people will see more in this album than something that could be used to upset a lot of occultists, and instead see how extravagantly beautiful such a record is in all of it’s psychedelic darkness. Equally on par with his work in Grave Pleasures, When We Are Dead is an album that you just can’t afford to miss out on. Pick it up and let yourself be taken by this unmistakably genuine performance. The Grim Tower highly recommends When We Are Dead and we’d be more than happy to hear any future material from such a captivating artist, no matter the musical medium.

(11 Tracks, 47:00)

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