After releasing an acoustic album last year, French outfit Hypno5e are now following it up with a more “normal” album in A Distant (Dark) Source – the thing is, normal isn’t really what Hypno5e do. The four-piece often utilise the term “cinematic metal”, a fairly apt description of their uniquely ambitious strain of atmospheric prog metal, but this too does the band somewhat of a disservice by distilling their sound into a simplified tag that only really represents a single component of a dynamic and varied style.
Comparisons to Gojira will run amok but they’re certainly not too far off the mark – Hypno5e lack the tighter songwriting that has made their fellow countrymen such revered stalwarts of modern metal, but what they lack in accessibility they make up for in sheer ambition. A Distant (Dark) Source is the band’s fifth album, and suitably one of their boldest yet. It comprises five tracks split across eleven movements, and to make things more confusing, it is the second part of a “diptych album project” based on an old Paleolithic lake in Bolivia, but the first in this project to be released. As such, you’re essentially listening to the second part of a double-album – it’s intended to compliment something which you cannot yet digest, like reading the sequel to a book after skipping the original.
Of course, there exists many a sequel capable of standing on their own merits, and A Distant (Dark) Source certainly does this, and in truth this album proves so sprawling that one could scarcely imagine listening to the two parts back-to-back anyway. Perhaps what’s most impressive from the off is the band’s dedication to sticking to their vision, unashamedly circumventing accessibility in the process. Though the album boasts its fair share of infectious melodies, the quartet feel no need to place these front and centre, even kicking the album off with the first of many French spoken-word samples, something that’s sure to alienate some of the more impatient sceptics giving it a spin. Like all of Hypno5e’s material, the band present their music completely undiluted, and expect the listener to put in the minutes required for the material to click.
In the past, this has occasionally been futile. Some of the band’s ambient passages have been prone to purposeless meandering, whilst strait-laced djent sections seemingly flew in the face of the band’s proggresive bent. As such, you could be forgiven for not giving this album the time of day, but on it the band have continued an evolution present on 2016’s Shores of the Abstract Line and as a result A Distant (Dark) Source is their most consistent effort to date. Where 2012’s Acid Mist Tomorrow found itself getting lost in the weeds, Shores… boasted more skilful usage of the band’s key assets, with mellow passages that felt poignant and heavier sections that were much more than repetitive Meshuggah worship. A Distant (Dark) Source takes another step in the right direction. The lighter periods boast an understated sense of scope driven by incandescent guitar melodies, synth undercurrents and delicate vocals, all bolstered by latin folk flourishes, whilst the heavier moments are an exhilarating blend of rhythmic djent, angular prog riffing and jarring switches in tempo.
It makes for the sort of all-encompassing listen that’s truly draining when undertaken in full, but whilst the album will leave you exhausted, it’s nothing if not a rewarding experience. Few would have the valiant/naive (delete as you see fit) determination needed to release an album that initially seems downright daunting, with a lengthy runtime and an obfuscated concept, but once you delve into A Distant (Dark) Source wholeheartedly, it’s not too hard to wrap your head around. The band’s light-meets-dark formula soon becomes apparent, but maintains a bewildering sense of scope even as you dive in for your umpteenth listen.
A Distant (Dark) Source is out 22nd November via Pelagic Records and can be purchased here.
Words: George Parr