Recommended for fans of: Dragged Into Sunlight, Celeste, This Gift Is A Curse
Heed this warning: Danish dynamos Hexis are… not exactly easy listening, let’s just say that.
In fact, their abrasive amalgam of Black Metal and Hardcore – liberally dosed with enough sickeningly sludgy moments to ensure that the listener never becomes too comfortable or complacent – has, if anything, only gotten harsher, heavier, and just generally nastier, as the years have gone by… as you’re about to discover.
2014 – ABALAM
It doesn’t take long for Abalam to demonstrate that I wasn’t lying when I said Hexis aren’t a band for the faint of heart – about as long as it takes the anxiety-inducing atmosphere of “Faciem” to explode into the hail of sonic shrapnel and pulverising percussion that is “Tenebris”, in fact.
From this point on there’s barely a single moment where the band allow you to catch your breath or collect your thoughts, racing through the baleful Atmo-Grind of “Exanimis”, the mouth-foaming fury of “Desolatum” (both of which, to an extent, recall a leaner, meaner version of Dragged Into Sunlight that’s been stripped down to its bare-essentials and then propelled out of the speakers at breakneck speed), and the writhing, menacing “Sequax” without a moment of mercy or reprieve.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments of (relative) nuance to be found though, especially at those points – the bleak, tension-riddled mid-section of the title-track, the ugly, unrelenting grind of the Celeste-esque “Immolabant” and the claustrophobic collapse into nihilistic negative-space that is the end of “Neglexerunt” – where the band ease off the gas a little and bear down hard on the slower, sludgier side of their sound, but even here it’s more about breaking you down than letting you breathe.
But while most of the album is solely concerned with ripping your face off as fast, and as furiously, as possible (and I haven’t even mentioned the pulverising Blackened-Grind pairing of “Timor” and “Exterminati” yet) it’s the final track which leaves the strongest, and deepest, impression because – after around 27 minutes or so of pure punishment – the brooding, bowel-loosening aftermath of “Inferis” is all but guaranteed to finish you off.
2017 – TANDO ASHANTI
If you survived the previous album… well done. Let’s see if you can manage another one, shall we?
The two-part title-track (the simmering “Tando” and the squalling “Ashanti”) kicks things off with a bilious brew of chilling atmosphere and caustic distortion (the latter especially, thanks to its dynamic shift from heaving, grinding guitars to haunting, hanging chords and portentous, almost Post-Metal ambience), after which the rabid, raving “Molestus” spits a scalding stream of auditory acid directly into your ears.
As you might have already guessed, Tando Ashanti is a more considered and dynamic album than its predecessor, but that hasn’t dulled the band’s edge by any means – if anything, it’s only made them sharper, and harsher, than before, with songs like the punch-drunk “Ritualis” (whose relentlessly driving drums wouldn’t sound out of place on an Ancst album) or the utterly frantic “Calamitas” proving that Hexis are still more than willing, and able, to go right for the throat.
Giving their music a little more time and space to flex its muscles (these eleven tracks are, on average, noticeably longer than those on the band’s first album) has, however, given the group more opportunity to choose when and where (and how hard) they want to hit you – case in point, the dense, droning darkness of “Nocturnus” carries an impressive amount of weight all on its own, but the transition from the song’s moody, atmospheric finale into the unerring, unforgiving pounding of “Opacus” is the sort of bait-and-switch, duck-and-weave tactic that makes the eventual impact of the latter track hit ten times as hard.
The final straight of the album also has a few things that, while I wouldn’t necessarily call them “surprises”, are certainly designed to expand your idea of who Hexis are, whether that’s the seething slow-burn of “Cordolium” (imagine playing a This Gift Is A Curse LP at the wrong speed and you’ll get the idea), the unsettling ambient soundscape of “Resurrectio”, or the subtle shift towards almost straight-up Black Metal during “Septem”.
It all culminates with the hypnotically heavy, suffocatingly bleak, Black/Sludge bile of “Praesagium”, a song that’s as addictive as it is abrasive, which effectively epitomises so much of what makes this album so dangerous… sure, getting hit again and again, with no room to properly dodge or defend yourself, is going to wear you down over time, but it’s that final slow-moving haymaker that’s going to put your lights out once and for all.
2022 – AETERNUM
On their third album it appears the band have packed on even more mass and muscle – with instantly-impactful opener “Letum” immediately showcasing a much more massive guitar tone and an almost overwhelmingly dense sound oddly reminiscent of latter-day Anaal Nathrakh – without losing their ability to suddenly shift their stance and hit you from a direction you weren’t expecting.
They’re still more than willing (and able) to deliver a straightforward beating, of course – the bitterly blackened, almost Grindcore-level brutality of songs like “Interitus” and Tacet” is a devastating testament to this fact – but Hexis have clearly learned how to fight smart, and how to fight a little bit dirty, on Aeternum.
This is most apparent on the album’s most unexpectedly expansive, and unforgivingly oppressive, tracks – “Exhaurire” and “Vulnera” – which find the band embracing their ugliest, sludgiest side more than ever before, to deliver the sort of morbidly desolate, monolithically heavy Black/Sludge hybrid (complete with subtle layers of spine-chilling atmosphere and ambience) that their not-so-distant cousins in Rorcal have long-since mastered.
It goes even further, and even deeper than that though, as while nihilism-drenched numbers like the lurching “Accipis” and the churning cauldron of barely-controlled chaos that is “Memento” assault your senses with an almost Plebeian Grandstand level pounding, there’s an undercurrent of sinister intelligence bubbling away beneath it all, which gives the impression that – in those all too few moments where the band pull their punches in order to let you gasp for air – they’re really just toying with you so that the next one hits even harder.
Unsurprisingly, Hexis save the biggest surpise for the very end of the album, first softening you up with the doomy melodies and earth-shaking rhythms of penultimate punisher “Amissus” only to then refuse to deliver the final blow and instead leave you there, bloodied and beaten, as the eerie ambient soundscape of “Aeternum” signifies that the fight is over… and you definitely lost.