Self-appointed purveyors of “psychedelic forest folk” Hexvessel have been going from strength to strength of late, and seemingly have no intent of letting that slip, following up the magnificent All Tree just a year later with this, their sixth album. It is, of course, somewhat of a risk to release something new and potentially wipe the preceding album’s quality from listeners’ minds so soon, but fear not – Kindred is a case of striking whilst the iron is hot.
It is also an altogether different beast than its predecessor. All Tree was an ethereal voyage, relentlessly rustic and achingly poignant, it presented a cohesive sound executed through a restrained approach to their well-defined style. The success of this method has seemingly given the band the confidence to try something more ambitious this time around. Kindred sees the band spreading their wings, reintroducing the “-rock” suffix to their folk-rock style as they embrace both the serene and the sinister, as well as everything in between.
Hexvessel’s strain of otherworldly allure seems to invoke some ancient mysticism out of the world around us, but this is a far cry from the history-obsessed musings of Warduna or Heilung. The band’s music is dynamic here, with progressive structures that employ everything from the “normal” rock setup of guitars-drum-bass to violas, trumpets, pianos and violins. As always, the quintet introduce several vocalists throughout, and this, together with a throughline of subdued psychedelia, keeps things tantalisingly strange even during the unmistakably human emotion of crestfallen interlude ‘Family’ or slow-burning standout ‘Fire Of The Mind’, where frontman Mat McNerney croons “the blacker the sun, the darker the dawn”.
This blend of tangible despondence and otherworldly psych gives the record a uniquely purifying energy that seems to wash over the listener. All Tree excelled in this regard too, but Kindred manages to do even more, ensnaring you in its retro occult flair even as it ventures to more outré realms. ‘Demian’ is vibrant but also unsettlingly supernatural, like a distorted imitation of early Led Zeppelin, whilst ‘Phaedra’ sees the band at their most otherworldly, the booming percussion giving the track a ritualistic aura whilst the beguiling guitars grow increasingly bizarre in the background. Elsewhere, the measured pace and seductive jazz of ‘Bog Bodies’ is vaguely reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack, only made all the more chilling by McNerney’s blend of sometimes deadpan, sometimes passionate vocals.
And at the end of it all, enchanting ballad ‘Magical & Damned’ and the unnerving ‘Joy Of Sacrifice’ finish the record off elegantly, the latter coming across almost like a mutated rendition of the sort of delicate poignancy present on All Tree as it refuses to settle and thus grows increasingly unnerving, before its sudden end leaves you simultaneously spooked and desperate for more. It’s a track that’s exemplative of how Kindred builds expertly off of the foundation laid by All Tree. Kindred is undoubtedly less inviting than its more considered predecessor, given its more malevolent spirit, but it’s a more dynamic experience, and even at its darkest, it’s nothing short of spellbinding.
Kindred is out now via Svart Records and can be purchased here.
Words: George Parr