Two thirds of the way through Fantasy – the opening track on Hemina’s new album, Venus, you’ll find yourself stopping and concentrating on what’s going on. As the guitars and keyboards weave in and out of one another in a style that is purely the preserve of the true gods of pomp and prog rock, you’ll realise your jaw has become slack, possibly even hanging open as you process what you’re hearing. Yes, at the third attempt Hemina are in the process of proving what many of us have suspected from the get-go; This band is the real deal.
The relaxed Floydisms of following track Expect the Unexpected defuse some of the euphoria you’ll have been feeling after Fantasy, but only by the smallest amount. The fact is, you’re already so absorbed in what they are doing, and what they’ll be doing next, that listening to Venus is an intense, cathartic experience, no matter the mood of the actual music being played. There’s a heavy whiff of Faith No More about this track too – especially in the low strung croon of the vocals – but if that’s not your bag then no worries – High Kite Ride is more what you’d expect from a modern prog metal band, the choppy percussive rhythm guitars locking in with the bass and drums whilst keyboards add colour and vocals soar. Whilst it’s true to say there are plenty of acts out there at the moment ploughing this particular musical furrow, not many do it with the lightness of touch that Hemina bring to their music. Heavy, yes, but always lithe, always supple, never musclebound.
Moonlight Bride is ushered in on the back of some decadent-sounding and very eighties-infused sax before morphing into another riff-heavy crusher, yet even this isn’t as it seems as, keeping to the eighties feel of the track, the band thrown some jazz-rock shapes come solo time which bring to mind none other than the diminutive Riddler himself, Nik Kershaw…
The title track is a tad more bucolic, adding flute to the mix and allowing the listener a moment to catch their breath – at least in the early part of the song. The solo section adds some muscular guitar back into the equation, although the overwheening air is that of introspection and somnolence. It’s a nice counterpoint to what’s gone before. The band ups the ante again for The Collective Unconscious, a spritely – some might say slightly poppy – radio-friendly blast of melodic ambrosia that sees the Hemina flexing more tuneful muscles than one might have assumed they possess.
But it gets better. At least it does if you’re a fan of seventies pomp rock, as Secret’s Safe – a gloriously complex blast of technique and panache – recalls the glory days of acts like Kansas, Angel and Starcastle in delirious fashion. Of course, this is seventies pomp viewed through a twenty first century prog metal lens, so the band lose nothing in heaviness despite the track being a technical tour de force. It’s an extravaganza for the ears, and no mistake, and a track I know I’ll be returning to a lot over the coming weeks and months.
Next track Starbreeze suffers a little from following the grandeur of Secrets’s Safe, and just passes the listener by, but the epic I sets things back on an even keel. The second of the album’s three ten minute-plus songs, it roams across the musical landscape, never settling in one place long but leaving an indelible mark of progress wherever it goes. We here at Sentinel Daily are not big fans of the idea that great prog has to equal long songs (the Iron Maiden approach, as it’s known in the office), but, really, when music as good as this is being produced the track could last all day as long as this reviewer is concerned. Following Dream State of Mind flows into the third epic, Down Will Come Baby in seamless, classy fashion, this final track ending matters in suitably grandiose, stately fashion. Again, the ghosts of the past are never far from the surface, with yet more eighties pop bubbling under the surface; If fellow Australians Voyager seem often to channel the inspiration of Duran Duran then, on this track at least, Hemina are doing the same with The Thompson Twins – and it’s not dreadful at all, strange as that analogy might seem!
Fleeting moments of pop nirvana aside what you have here, in the final reckoning, is a staggeringly mature and well put together piece of progressive metal. The band weaves together so many disparate musical strands on Venus so well that there literally seems a sif there’s no limit to what they might achieve in the future. But for the moment we should all be content to just wallow in what will surely be one of the prog metal releases of 2016.
Hemina will release Venus on November 11th