I have a bad habit of yawning by the time I reach the second or third track of most recent thrash releases. Unlike many seasoned metalheads I know, I didn’t grow up on the old gods of thrash, I do not worship at the altar of Slayer or Metallica, and though I’ve explored the field after getting into metal through other pathways, my tolerance for the genre remains limited. I enjoy an ass-burning riff as much as the next person, but the idea of writing songs that sound different from each other seems to be a foreign concept to many current-generation thrash bands, and I’ve always had trouble appreciating the “classic” thrash vocal style.
But what I’ve discovered in recent years is that I didn’t dig deep enough into the darker corners of thrash before convincing myself that it would always fall low on my own list of genre preferences. What I’ve discovered is a strain of thrash that ignites a fever in the blood. What I’m talking about is the infection of black metal within the thrash blood stream. It’s not a recent scourge — the disease sprang to virulent life long ago — but I’ve only discovered its appeal recently. The self-titled debut album of Philadelphia’s Hexer is a very fine recent example of that virus.
This new album is not entirely new. It collects six songs from two 2011 EPs that the band distributed locally on cassette, but they’re now getting a remastered, professionally packaged vinyl/digital release by the reliable Gilead Media label. And the 36 minutes of music the album contains are anything but dull: Hexer is a romping blast of hellfire and brimstone, with the kind of riff mastery that will cause foaming at the mouth.
Hexer mix up their songs with a rapidly changing collage of rock rhythms, d-beats, and vicious blasting. They vary the pacing, and the riffing techniques range from big, booming jabs to punk-style chord progressions to whirling dervish dances to whiteout blizzards of tremolo fury, anchored by a nimble, bounding bass.
All the songs are also loaded with infectious hooks, the kind that will get heads and feet moving. And woven through the best of the tracks are bleak atmospheric melodies that have an unsettling way of seeping into the mind and hanging around long after the immediate thrill of the chase is over.
The guitars and vocals are wrapped in a shroud of distortion, with the production erring on the side of lo-fi, yet not so murky as to disguise the abundant instrumental skill of the performers. And speaking of the vocals, they’re absolutely vicious, a scalding sulphuric-acid spray of venom, often conjuring images of a hideous wraith or sometimes the heartless scouring of icy cold blasts of wind. Distorted, inhuman, and felt as much as heard, they create an unsettling aura of evil around all the rifftastic fun.
The best songs in this collection are the two 7-8 minute tracks taken from the band’s second EP (denominated as “II:I” and “II:III”). Hexen use the added length of these songs to build greater complexity and variation into the music, even introducing some heavy chugging into the second of those songs, as well as those dark atmospheric melodies mentioned earlier. But the riff remains king, and “II:I” in particular has become a candidate for our annual list of this year’s most infectious extreme metal songs.
In short, Hexer is a real gem, and should appeal to fans of bands such as Aura Noir, Gospel of the Horns, and Deströyer 666, or more recent arrivals such as Satan’s Wrath and Midnight.
Information about the band’s members is hard to come by, but what I’ve dug up is that it’s a threesome consisting of a husband-and-wife duo — Phlegethon (lead guitarist and bassist) and Ansgar (vocals) — plus Lazarus (also a member of NY’s Mutilation Rites), who handles rhythm guitar and drum programming. Metal Archives states that Phlegethon is a doctoral student at the University of Iceland, and Hexer’s Bandcamp page includes an “Iceland” tag.
Hexer will be released by Gilead Media in a limited pressing of 300 copies on 180g black vinyl, packaged in a thick, 24-pt jacket with a vellum lyric insert, and a download code will be included. It appears that orders can be placed beginning this evening. More information about the album can be found here, and you can listen to all of it below.