Hexvessel, formed by UK-born Mat McNerney in Finland, is a band that has links to extreme metal, but has always been something of a folk/rock hybrid. Think an introspective Fairport Convention, and you might be close. The press photo has the band all donned in their best pseudo medieval clobber; all muted earth-coloured cloth. Skyclad without the leather, if you will. I have no idea what 'All Tree' means, and the album cover provides no instant answers either. So it is, vaguely informed, I head into the woods to absorb the earthy tones of acoustic instruments.
I have a complicated relationship with 'Folk' Music. It is both so gloriously over-vague to even be a genre, and so woefully unfashionable that it's something of a stigma to contemplate enjoying. I play in a band that would be labelled 'Folk', and yet I cringe at some of the aesthetics of the genre (not to mention, in a twist on Spinal Tap, opening for the Morris Dancers). And yet, for reasons that elude me to this day, I'm still drawn to music that has the boxes ticked; predominantly acoustic guitars, fiddles, harmonised lyrics about merry old *insert country here*, and the sense that the recording studio was covered in moss and hay and smelling of cider. One of my favourite albums of last year was Winterfylleth's 'The Hallowing of Heirdom' (not to mention Dan Capps' wonderful Wolcensmen project). I don't consciously gravitate toward it, but I do enjoy (some of) it.
Opening 'song' 'Blessing' set off all my alarms, though; acapella, folky-dokey vocals, lyrics about coming-of-age arrow construction or something. In fact, such were my heckles raised by this, that I gave up listening for a few weeks. That's my problem, though, and an unwarranted one at that. 'All Tree', you see, is another example of metalheads getting the folk game right. Metal is still seen by the general populace as being a fringe, weird (misunderstood) genre of music just as folk is. Sure, there are commercial acts that allow pop fans to tell their friends they like the genre (Mumford & Sons), but it's a richer experience than the charts, and the clichés, would have you believe. 'Ancient Astronaut' is a standout track; a driving guitar/percussion combo propelling the song forward buoyed by a pleasing chorus. In a mystical folk-pop kind of way. Final song, 'Closing Circles', is as beautiful an album closer I've heard in a long time. The lyrical refrain "Fair thee well...my old friend" seems like a lovely send off, even if the last line of the chorus appears to give it a sombre touch. Most songs avoid filler status - the possible exception being opener 'Blessing' (although it sets the scene), and 'Visions of A.O.S.' - and all feel connected somehow.
Hexvessel never really grabbed my attention before this album. Past works were solid, but unremarkable, collections of folk-ish songs. Nothing from their past sits in my memory. I strongly believe that 'All Tree' will remain in my mind a good deal longer. It feels complete; like a concept album.
Review by Steve Cowan
15th February 2019
2) Son of the Sky; 3) Old Tree
4) Changeling; 5) Ancient Astronaut
6) Visions of A.O.S.
7) A Sylvan Sign
8) Wilderness Spirit
9) Otherworld Envoy
11) Journey to Carnac
12) Liminal Night
13) Closing Circles
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...another example of metalheads getting the folk game right."