(The Dutch band Black Rabbit released their debut album in March, and given our past attentions it would be a surprise if we didn’t say something about it. Finally we have, thanks to the following extensive commentary by DGR.)
You’ll have noticed over the years that one of the ongoing threads we like to pluck at around this site is the idea that there are certain albums we just can’t let go by, even though we’re long after release and the sort of ‘cultural moment’ that a disc may have had has passed – whether measured in nanoseconds or months. There are always albums that seem to steadily hover around the surface of the great musical scrying pool that we often pull our review subjects from, and at a certain point it just doesn’t seem to matter anymore the reason why we’re writing about them, just that we must, because at some point we’re completing some imaginary story arc that has drilled itself into our skulls.
Black Rabbit’s debut album Hypnosomnia is one of those. Honestly, it has been surprising that we’ve never really closed out the initial thread we started with our coverage of these death metal groove monsters ages ago by covering their first-full length. Its equally surprising that it seems that this one has been stealth-flying on a lot of people’s musical radars, given the metal public’s current seemingly insatiable appetite for big, meaty riffs and thudding rotating snare drum/bass drum one-two rhythms that bore their way under your skin until they become part of you.
If nothing else, we can close our own personal musical arc with the band, rectifying at least one of those two situations, by checking in with Hypnosomnia now.
photo by Sven Scholten
You can blame our own Islander for this one, as he’s responsible for Black Rabbit landing on the NCS Radar back in 2020. Partially, that’s why it always seemed strange that we never fully caught up with the band this year, as their 2020 single “Taken By The Devil” got its hooks in quite a few of us. Even then, as a newly launched project the band were already showing off a mastery of the death metal craft that would force people to look past the fact their name had “Rabbit” in it, which is one of those situations where no matter how evil or pulled from mythology/scripture your name may be, conjuring a rabbit is going to set up a pretty high hurdle to clear for some folks.
It is good news then that not only do Black Rabbit fully play into their own bullshit on Hypnosomnia, but manage to take those early promising singles and kick out an album that builds upon them even further. When you’re of the school of death metal revival that Black Rabbit are drawing from, replete with the expected dumb-as-hell guitar riffage and grooving rhythm lines, it’s a tough order to keep an album interesting. You can often sail away from a release with a solid EP’s worth of finger-crushing songs, but many-a-group are prone to falling into this mid-tempo, crawling rut that is more prone to leaving minds numb than it is for a full-on energy-powered rock-out session. Black Rabbit walk away from Hypnosomnia with a much better batting average than most groups do on that front.
For the most part, even though Black Rabbit are drawing from the sewage crawling and thrumming guitar of the current death metal scene, where they excel is that they tend to either keep the tempo high, so that you get that constant one-two, one-two drum hit that sparks a primal part in a person’s brain – or the slower moving tracks have such a gigantic groove to them that you’ll have a tendency to hum along.
There’s a lot of power in keeping a person’s head nodding along that many bands seem to glance right past in their latest attempt to shake the foundations of the earth via low-tuning and knuckle-dragging. Black Rabbit tap into it instead and use much of that ore to build Hypnosomnia. You can hear, recognize, and even pinpoint the group’s influences from miles away with the precision of a spy satellite but it is how they use those already well-trod paths to make their own journeys that elevate the group higher than just a new batch of young guns that are exceedingly talented.
The pacing of Hypnosomnia reflects this as it isn’t until the middle segment of the album’s lengthy 12 track, nearly fifty-five-minute, run time that they decide to slow things down for a bit and feed into death metal’s penchant for crawling through the mud. Prior to that and post the near-obligatory introductory song, Black Rabbit are fiercely dedicated to the constant ‘heartbeat’ like percussive pulse that has often been credited to the ‘swede-death’ subsection.
Letting Hypnosomnia open up with songs like “Neverending”, “Culmination Of Hate”, “Fale Awakening”, and “Hollow Eyes” is oddly enough, like settling into a comfortable bed for someone familiar with the genre. Black Rabbit spend those four songs jumping from strong segment to strong segment, which like we mentioned before, definitely gives you the sense that you’re having the curtain peeled back and you can see the man operating behind it but all the same the illusion is just so strong you’re willing to overlook it.
Those four songs have some of the most solid-as-cliff-walls grooves out there, and the first time the pacing really changes up in “Delta Waves” – which the band did a lyric video for – is about the first time you realize it’s been almost six songs since hitting the ‘play’ button.
Albums will sometimes lose steam toward the end of their time but Black Rabbit are of a recent crop that have seen fit to buck that trend in their Hypnosomnia run. They place one of the heaviest songs of the album in the final four in the form of “Paradoxical Sleep”. It’s one of the most percussive songs on Hypnosomnia, where the guitar riffs seem to follow the hammering drums and often will hit with enough downward force as to feel like you’re impacting pavement yourself. Makes sense that the band were aware enough of the song’s vitality themselves, since they made a music video for it.
If you’re going to make a hell of a first impression, the neck-snapping of “Paradoxical Sleep” will do plenty of work for you. It does share a sibling in “Hellfire” two songs later; part of that impression comes from that song’s arrival after two of Hypnosomnia‘s longer and more intricate songs – “Judgement Day” and “Descending”. Black Rabbit decide to get out of the wall-of-guitar-riff and bass rumble for one last adrenaline rush of an ass-kicker and “Hellfire” grabs that baton to bring Hypnosomnia over the finish line. They even share similar run times, coming in about four-minutes-thirty each, with about five seconds on each end for the former and latter.
Black Rabbit‘s Hypnosomnia is a lot of sharp teeth and equally sharp claws. It bares those elements throughout its near-hour with you and keeps one foot each equally planted within the worlds of modern death metal and the sewage refineries of old, though which one has more of the band’s weight pressed down on it at the moment will change between each song. The finely-honed dance that Black Rabbit are engaged in is one that few bands can pull off particularly well, where other groups either seem like they’re lost in a swirl of influences or so deeply tied down to following one blueprint that you’ll find yourself going on the ‘influences’ playlist journey right after.
Black Rabbit have such a sharply-tuned sense of groove and riff-worship on Hypnosomnia that they still manage to leave a huge impression, even though it’s not all bombast or humongous guitar pyrotechnics. Instead, it’s that avalanche of drumming and constant headbang-style writing that keeps Hypnosomnia a worthy listen and why it’s still worth banging the drum about them even with some distance from the album’s release.