Edinburgh multi-instrumentalist Tommy Concrete has built a name for himself in the underground with a wide-ranging sound that takes in elements as disparate as hip-hop, doom and sludge, capped with a wildly progressive, Devin Townsend-esque slant. Something he’s admitted to in the past is a swapping between various styles rather than any cohesive sound that brings them all together; something he deliberately has chosen to change with his ninth solo album, Hexenzirkel.
Although it’s just six tracks, Hezenzirkel sprawls across an incredibly ambitious seventy three minutes. Though that might more usually be associated with the kind of experimental, drone or doom realms, here it’s packed to the rafters with twists and turns, a boldly experimental and incredibly dense release. Written almost in diary form between March and May 2020, the album explores a diagnosis of psychosis that he received in 2019; something he came to terms with during the lockdowns in the UK that drove him to create Hexenzirkel. This also marks a new direction in that he represents neurodiversity not as a concept or theme but as the music itself. His synesthesia is used as a creative tool; seeing the way the music needed to look and then crafting songs to fit these shapes and colours.
Opening with ‘What Unknown Force’, we’re treated immediately to a repeating, escalating pattern in the bass that spills over into the drums and guitars. It’s a bold move to open the album with the longest song on here but if there’s anything that can be said of Tommy Concrete as a musician, it’s a creative fearlessness. The gamble certainly pays off as the song goes through its various movements; his voice is almost operatic in parts, other times echoing Till Lindemann in its deep register and intonation.
It makes sense, then, that ‘Practice For the Apocalypse’ whips the rug out from underneath and chooses instead to indulge in a doom-inflected opening dirge, before pushing the pace up and bringing in vocal snarls that give the song something of a resemblance to EYEHATEGOD – if only in passing as it soon moves back into Deconstruction-era Devin with all the hallmark theatricality. This, again, swiftly morphs into a distorted vocal that sits atop an almost drone-like passage. There’s so many genres on display in the song, even frantic prog wigouts as well as sludgy or doom-inspired riffs and even an almost hip-hop segment with rapped vocals. Fortunately there’s enough touchstones that it’s not overwhelming and there’s a clear sense of progression and callbacks to earlier motifs.
Every song is a self-contained world with its own story – ‘Entombed With My Pride By My Side’ being both a frank and frantic meditation on death as well as the state of the world with lyrics like “Humans are shit, boring as fuck” being particularly blunt assessments. In another breath, with ‘The Blind Man Shines Light On The Truth’, Concrete takes aim at the political right wing, namely the current UK government’s desire to impose themselves into every area of life – so much for small government conservatism – and deride the arts as non-essential.
It’s final track ‘All Of This Will Be Eaten By The Sun’, however, that contains perhaps the most succinct and accurate summation of Tommy Concrete and his work. In the first verse, he states simply “My music exists as a by-product of me / I can control it and thus affect destiny / There is no reason I do this save I can / So many times when it was all that I had”. It’s a disarmingly honest assessment that clearly explains who Tommy Concrete’s music is for and why he creates. An exercise in musical catharsis and finding meaning through sound, Hexenzirkel triumphs in this way and, while it is a deeply challenging listen given its length and complexity, it’s also an incredibly rewarding one and is deserving of your time.
Hexenzirkel is out June 25th via Trepanation Recordings and can be ordered here.
Words: Will Marshall