Hexvessel’s pastoral folk has been gradually building momentum since their inception ten years ago and on All Tree, their fifth album, this forward motion comes to a beautifully morose head with songs that live in the undergrowth and call to mind ancient mossy forests and a longing for simpler times. While Hexvessel’s music is charming on the surface, what lies deep below the soft acoustic guitars and frontman Mat McNerney’s recognisable voice is something that breathes with mythology and long-forgotten local legends.
All Tree is rooted in the folk of artists such as Fairport Convention or Nick Drake and Hexvessel are not shy about naming their influences nor are they afraid to bring those inspirations to the fore with lyrics that speak of old tales and childhood stories, fairies and imps and psychedelia is par for the course. Opening piece “Blessing” sets the scene for what follows with a vocal chant that wouldn’t be out of place in the films The Wicker Man or Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow – it’s this kind of rural atmosphere that Hexvessel are evoking in their music and one that is woven throughout their music. “Son of the Sky” is a despondent track that is carried forward by deliciously sorrowful strings and McNerney’s deep, round voice narrating the journey through his ancient past and in the title track a seemingly more recent moment of sadness is spoken about, yet there is an understanding that even when those moments of finality approach there is always the opportunity to return to the earth form which we ultimately came.
“Changeling” is a song that revels in the old stories of babies being spirited away by fairies or in Finnish folklore (Finland now being McNerney’s home) it’s more a tale of hearing the call of the forest and disappearing in woodlands for no discernible reason. In a more modern way it’s a song of growth and movement with the starkly honest view that one small decision can change you forever. Neige from Alcest adds bittersweet melodies and harmonies to the song and the rough textures of the earth are tangible through the words that are spoken. Those textures are apparent throughout the album and for All Tree the focus is squarely on telling a story; images of covered forest floors, old rituals, stone circles and Pagan dance are conjured by the jaunty strings of “Wilderness Spirit” and the nostalgic references of “Birthmark” and its echoing guitars.
All Tree is certainly Hexvessel at their most majestic; Mat McNerney’s voice is clear and strong and gives the words a power that has been spoken about through the ages, the instrumentation is simple yet never boring – instead highlighting and giving life to the songs rather than overwhelming the structure of the narrative – and the songs are beautifully rendered. Memories are given the importance they deserve, folk tales are spoken about with obvious reverence and the Earth given the respect it so sorely needs.
8.5 / 10
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