HEXENKLAD – SPRIRIT OF THE STONE
Christianity and its inherent weaknesses/evil has been the subject of dozens, if not hundreds, of heavy metal albums. Few (if any) have framed it as an alien invasion upon a peaceful, Pagan society, and none in such enraged, funeral terms as the subject of today’s review. Ladies and gents, meet Hexenklad.
The band sprung to life as essentially a one-man project back in 2014 when guitarist Michael Grund (SIG:AR:TYR, ex-Battlesoul) traded city life for the wilds of Ontario, Canada. Whilst writing the songs that would eventually become debut album Spirit of the Stone, he began gathering together a group of highly impressive musicians, a process that was only completed in 2017. By February of that year they had signed to CDN Records; by July, Spirit was released.
The band describe themselves as ‘blackened folk metal’, and it becomes immediately apparent that they have hit the nail on the head: there’s a strong Pagan/folk element to their music, but equally it contains the harshness and, well, blackness, of black metal. Opening track ‘In This Life Or the Next’, with its sawing riffs and duel vocals, has an almost ‘War of the Worlds’ theme lyrically, creating a lofty and frankly rather bonkers number which speaks of an invading species coming from the sky killing some people and gathering up the rest; however listening to the full album puts the theme into its greater context, as mentioned above.
The beauty of combining such disparate subgenres is that, musically, you can combine the drama and grace of folk metal with the brute force and insidiousness of black metal. Thus each song has a texture unique to that combination: there are moments of elegance interspersed by a real sense of the horror and foreboding of the consequences of the ‘invasion’. The combination is as mad as it sounds but at times it’s utterly beguiling, such as the dystopian ‘At the Ends of Existence’, the weary yet triumphant ‘Returned’, and the simply structured ‘In Waking Tymes’.
The pinnacle of the album lies in two other songs, however: the menacing ‘At Dusk’, which paints a picture of vampire-like zombies who only come out at night and fear the sun; thick with emotion and foreboding and loaded with a heavy, plodding beat, it’s almost – but not quite – the album highlight. That honour goes to lead single ‘Path to Ruin’, which speaks of the “healing powers of Mother Divine” in a damning indictment of Christianity and plea to return to their Pagan roots. Brilliantly textured, containing everything from cello to blastbeats and wailing guitars, and assuredly headbang-worthy, it’s the most varied track on the album and is simply a delight to listen to.
There are a few issues with the album – the vocals sometimes get lost in the mix, or are overrun by the hammy whispered sections; the lyrics are a trifle repetitive at times, and are sometimes rather clumsily shoehorned into the space within the lines which is awkward to listen to – but overall, this is an interesting and impressive debut from Hexenklad; putting a new spin on a subject as old as religion is especially remarkable. Now that the band have cemented their full lineup and their diary is beginning to fill up with gigs, expect exciting things from them.
Review by Melanie Brehaut