(We present another one of DGR’s typically deep-dive reviews, this time focusing on the latest album by Hannes Grossmann, which is out now.)
Hannes Grossmann has over the years become one of metal’s more prolific names and certainly one of metal’s more recognizable drummers, and for good reason. His unerring precision behind the kit could make anyone jealous. Had Gene Hoglan not already earned the nickname ‘The Atomic Clock’ through his own hard work, Hannes could easily step up as the next candidate to experiment with how gravity affects time via blastbeats after being launched into space.
When you have a resume that has included banner names of the tech-death scene and on some of their landmark works, it’s easy to understand how Hannes has gained the following he has. It also makes sense, then, that he could easily make his way in the world of solo projects, and in fact has been doing so for four albums now, the most recent of which — To Where The Light Retreats — saw release in early June, following a solo single last year.
Photo by Lindy Balduk
Every Hannes Grossmann solo album has been different from the others, though they’ve all served as vehicles for him to recruit some excellent musicians alongside his own drumming work to realize their overall vision — including mainstays like Alkaloid bandmates Danny Tunker, Morean, and bassist Linus Klausenitzer (all of them musicians who make the music world just clearly better off so long as they continue to get work). Along with them, though, Hannes has also brought in Dark Fortress guitarist V. Santura on many of these releases, and has had a masterclass-worthy group of guitarists cut solos on his records along the way.
What makes To Where The Light Retreats interesting in the face of all those huge names is that, surprisingly, it trims things back a bit, focusing more on the five mentioned here than having a parade of guests join his core wrecking crew. As a result, he has come up with a surprisingly sleek, thrashier, and more feral release than what has previously landed in his collective works.
A large part of that feeling of being sleeker is due to the fact that, this time around, To Where The Light Retreats sticks with this familiar core cast of characters, using both V. Santura and Morean for vocal and guitar work/solos and bringing out long-time cohort Christian Münzner (another Alkaloid stalwart) for a guest appearance as well. Other than that, it sticks pretty close to the core Alkaloid crew mentioned above for eight songs that all feel different from one another.
Photo by Lindy Balduk
Much like the album as a whole, each of the songs feels tightly compacted, objective-focused, and concise. There’s no spillover from song-to-song here; you’ll notice the distinct beginning and ending on each one. It’s the sort of album that lends itself to differences among listeners in their choice of a favorite track, since there’s basically eight different approaches present here, and really it comes down to what you’re looking for. It’s how you wind up with situations like To Where The Light Retreats delivering a show-stopper with its second song. One of the more difficult obstacles in the album is just making it past how goddamned catchy that lead guitar part is during the main chorus of “The Sun Eaters”, and just how quickly that song burrows its way into your skull.
The album opens with a big, eight-plus-minute number in “The Great Designer”, which plays out starkly different from the previously mentioned “The Sun Eaters”, and the impression of the album as eight different stories is strengthened by the third song in the lineup, which performs a similar act. In fact, it isn’t until the last three songs on To Where The Light Retreats that things seem to have some sort of sinew twining them together. However, all three of those opening songs have their fair share of highlights.
That third song, “The Symbolic Nature Of Terms”, has one of the sharpest grooves on this release, making for a different dynamic from the glorious guitar melodies of the preceding song. Instead of prying its way into your skull by being irrevocably catchy, it instead goes for the more neck-ache-creating headbang approach with the way the guitar and bass seem to bounce up and down throughout the whole song, providing much of the overall rumble in the song as a whole. “The Symbolic Nature Of Terms” does a lot in shifting around the dynamics of To Where The Light Retreats as it jumps from giant epic opener to “most infectious” candidate to crushingly heavy groove. All three songs display different approaches from each another, yet all three are early album highlights.
The combo of tracks six and seven — “Death And The Vast Nothing” and “The Fountain”, respectively — are the songs where it seems like Hannes and his Dark Fortress/Alkaloid friends took the shackles off their prog-rock ambitions and made some truly prog-death epics. While the song lengths may be significant — a combined fifteen minutes between the two — they fall in line with the grand reach of album opener “The Great Designer”. The difference here is that alongside the wall-to-wall relentless attack on the drumming front, everybody seems to get a little bit of the spotlight between the two.
Both V. Santura and Morean add a bunch of guitar work to the mix, and the vocal work alternates between the two on the pair of songs. Of course, when you unite a duo like that alongside the lineup mentioned all the way back in the early parts of this dive, it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’ve fallen deeply into the space-prog dimension that has resulted in Alkaloid’s recent works. Yet, as far as oddball sales pitches go, you could do worse than say that there is a chunk of time on Hannes Grossmann‘s latest disc that finds him pouring from a similar cauldron as what might’ve given us Liquid Anatomy.
When you’re as prolific a songwriter as Hannes Grossmann has been within the death metal genre, you get the sense that his solo releases are a combination of all of those factors — and a hell of a lot more. His list of guest musicians across his four solo releases reads like a fantasy draft of artists. To Where Light Retreats — even with a more laser-focused scope on a core crew — still has that affect. Musically, the spread of eight different-sounding approaches makes the record a very interesting prospect, one of those where everyone will likely walk away with different favorite songs; the musical magpie approach means that different styles pop up throughout the forty-plus minutes present here. In fact, participating in that discussion might be reason enough alone to dive into To Where The Light Retreats.
Although, on that same subject, there’s probably going to be some serious discussion at the end of the year as to which one here makes it on to our own Most Infectious list.