Mat McNerley is sure keeping himself busy. A few months back the new Grave Pleasures (ex-Beastmilk) album came along, and soon enough a Hexvessel album would follow. That would mark the third full-length record that Hexvessel would release, coming after Dawnbringer and No Holier Temple, and following an excellent EP in Iron Marsh.
When We Are Death carries on the psychedelic folk rock tradition of Hexvessel, however it seems as if a touch of Grave Pleasures has found itself into the new Hexvessel album. Obviously this influence does not see Hexvessel turning towards post-punk directions or garage rock vibes, but there is a much stronger melodic element in When We Are Death, and is presented in a more straightforward manner than we were used to by the band.
The melodic verses of “Mirror Boy” quickly become addictive, along with the finale of “Transparent Eyeball.” There is just so much emotion that travels through the soundscapes of this record, making it difficult not to get trapped in Hexvessel's melodic hooks. “Teeth of The Mountain” with its heavier rock extensions and the delicate progression of “Green Gold” are such moments, while “Earth Over Us” and “Cosmic Truth” move in bleaker domains.
What also unfolds naturally in this instance is the expansion of the Americana leanings of the band, signaled with the vocal delivery and instrumentation of “Earth Over Us” and the more upbeat quality of “When I'm Dead” as the guitars achieve a grinding sound and McNerley's vocals settle in the scenery. The more retro, heavy rock of “Shaman You” and “Teeth of The Mountain” see that expansion also moving into groovier domains. But there is also the dark folk aspects that comes into view, first with “Transparent Eyeball” as a slight blackened feeling creeps in and carries on to “Cosmic Truth.” And then, there is also a tendency towards ritualism, something apparent in the previous works of Hexvessel as well, with both “Hunter's Prayer” and “Shaman You” creating an excellent, ceremonial-like structure.
Still the bread and butter of this band is their psychedelic sound, which dominates When We Are Death and produces some of the finest moments Hexvessel has delivered, such as the lead parts of “Hunter's Prayer.” The old-school vibe of “Transparent Eyeball” catches you off guard, while the space-like manner in which “Drugged Up The Universe” unfolds sees the vision of the band expanding to further domains. Getting completely psyched out at times, it is scary to see how fast this trip can lead into dark, nightmare-like scenarios, while “Mushroom Spirit Doors” and its sharp tempo-wise riffs merge with Beatles-esque fantasies as faster parts and breakdowns reinstate reality.
When We Are Death is not so much an album of change for Hexvessel, as it is an album of evolution. Their inspiration has led them to an album that is more direct, presented in an honest manner. Excellent throughout.
8.0 / 10
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