Every song on Hornwood Fell‘s new album Damno Lumina Nocte is named “Vulnera” — the Latin word for “wound” (accompanied by Roman numerals I – VII) — every one of them a projection of “dark landscapes, discomforts, and open wounds of the society we live in”. Every one of them is a cavalcade of disturbances, a mind-warping amalgam of dissonance and derangement that seems to embody mental fracturing and emotional splintering. It is as if the band found Pandora’s Box, and without hesitation opened it, recording the sounds of all the evils within as they escaped in a mad rush of freakish abandon.
This is not easy listening. The music is persistently abrasive and frequently cacophonous. There are twisted melodic motifs and rhythmic patterns that appear often enough to stitch the songs together, often in physically compulsive ways, but things change unpredictably, and veer so sharply and so often that it’s hard for a listener to maintain any balance — like trying to walk a high tightrope that’s being plucked (rapidly) by giant fingers.
It is also, perhaps perversely, an utterly fascinating experience. There is a mad genius at work within these tracks (two of them, actually), and the songs are so weirdly transfixing that the minutes speed by like starlings in flight. Looking away from these deep, festering wounds turns out to be very difficult.
Hornwood Fell began their career with the objective of playing second-wave, Norwegian-inspired black metal. That’s not what they’re doing any more. Their avant-garde music does continue to include elements of black metal, but they’ve gone far off that road and into uncharted territories. It’s as if these two twin brothers, Marco and Andrea Basili, put themselves into a state of possession and became the instruments of something other than themselves. It’s no surprise to read that they wrote and recorded the album in two days — “the perfect time for us at that stage to gather energies, catalyze them, then release them, without contamination”. The experience, they say, was “hard and pure, like some kind of shock therapy where we drained ourselves of all emotions, letting them flow with sincerity, then exploding, not holding back.”
The drumming is excellent, and as much as anything it gives you something to hold onto as these riots of dire (and delightful) sound flourish around them. But, to be clear, the drum patterns themselves constantly change, ranging from manic to metronomic, as does almost everything else. What goes on around these flexing rhythmic drives is a juxtaposition of deep, sludgy bass tones, shrill, shrieking guitars, and a cornucopia of other tonalities. You’ll encounter quavering organ chords, meandering note reverberations, bleating and moaning harmonies, and wisps of what might be cello and upright bass matched with tinkling guitar emanations.
The music combines sensations of brutish destructiveness and the revelation of hallucinatory visions. The sounds channel dismal moodiness and psychotic frenzy. The music roars, and is speckled with fleeting ethereal melodies that ring like ghostly bells. One minute you’re choking in a miasma of corrosive symphonic strings, and the next you’re caught in a strafing run of blasting drums and boiling riffage. It is a richly layered tapestry of arcane possession and cataclysmic obliteration — like being caught in an earthquake while receiving garbled transmissions from a celestial sphere.
The vocals are themselves a riot of sound — veering from red-throated yells to cold-blooded roars, from wretched wails to dictatorial howls and livid screams. At one point swirling choral voices rise up in an aria of pain.
The music would challenge the ability of a better wordsmith than this writer to communicate the experience of this album, but fortunately we have a full stream of it below. It is recommended that you take it all in at once, because the combined effect is greater than the sum of the parts. And yes, as dissonant, destructive, and disturbing as the music is, it is also a delight, simply to be in the presence of people who have so thoroughly surrendered themselves to whatever muses may have possessed them as they made this.
Damno Lumina Nocte features artwork by Matteo Valentini. It was mixed and mastered by Emiliano Natali at Fear No One Studio. It will be released by Third I Rex on May 31st — and you can pre-order it now.