Hexvessel – Iron Marsh (EP)

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new EP from Hexvessel titled Iron Marsh released via Svart Records.

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Tracklisting:

1. Masks Of The Universe
2. Superstitious Currents
3. The Tunnel At The End Of The Light (Redux)
4. Woman Of Salem (Yoko Ono cover Feat. Rosie from Purson)
5.  Don’t Break The Curse (Feat. Alia from Blood Ceremony)

‘Dawnbringer’ was an auspicious debut for Hexvessel, bringing them to the attention of the growing occult doom scene, even though they don’t really play doom, or didn’t at that point, and getting them a slot at the Roadburn festival. Their second full-length, ‘No Holier Temple’ added a wider sonic range, including electric guitars. The album was also darker, more varied and heavier – without resorting to generic strategies – than its predecessor, which felt a bit whispy, a hair’s breath away from twee at times. Make no mistake, Hexvessel are still playing psychedelic folk music, but they’ve moved from being a potential novelty act into something that has the power and scope to appeal to fans of seminal neofolk acts like Current 93.

The ‘Iron Marsh’ EP carries on with this trend, opening with a moody epic track called ‘Masks of the Universe’ where incantatory vocals and folksy fiddles co-exist with almost gothic electric guitars. ‘Superstitious Currents’ is more folksy, with an elegiac tone and brooding, droning strings contrasting with the lucid fiddle melodies and percussive backbone. ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’ is a remake of a track from ‘Dawnbearer’. This new setting underscores the evolution of the band’s sound. The original version was sparser, acoustic, more overtly folk. This time there are electric guitars and keyboards and a conventional drumkit, as well as female backing vocals in place of Carl-Michael Eide’s guest vocals, but the song hasn’t lost its darkly beautiful mood. The arrangement is less craggy, but it hasn’t exchanged character for volume.

Hexvessel have made the transition from something akin to a darker, more pagan (and less eccentric) The Incredible String Band to something closer to the magnificent blend of folk music (and mood) with rock instrumentation achieved by Jethro Tull on ‘Heavy Horses’ and they make good use of the expanded resources afforded by this transition. The Yoko Ono cover, ‘Woman Of Salem’ carries on with Hexvessel’s tradition of oddball cover choices, although this one is a lot less obvious yet even more apropos than some. A snaky wah-laced guitar slithers in and out of a thrumming acoustic guitar and keyboard arrangement with dual male and female vocals. The end result is a weird, black magic-haunted song that could easily stand alongside ‘Witchfinder’ by Mandy Morton and Spriguns, a unjustly obscure band from the British folk revival of the 70s (look them up – youtube is your friend!). It’s also worth listening to Yoko Ono’s original – she’s so much more than just the woman who supposedly broke up The Beatles. The last track, ‘Don’t Break The Curse’ starts strongly and has some great spoken word bits, but feels a bit over-extended by the time it finishes.

I don’t think this EP marks another step forward in Hexvessel’s stylistic growth, but I also think they are at a point where they can afford to consolidate the gains they’ve made in extending their sonic palette rather than venturing into further experimentation. As such, ‘Iron Marsh’ shows off the strengths of their current approach and serves as an effective appetiser for the next full-length.

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