About thirty seconds in to the anthemic album opener of Hex A.D.‘s latest album, Naadegave, a smile will start to spread across your helpless face.
That’s as long as it will take for you to realise that here, once again, these Norwegian proggists have come up with a corker of an album. Funeral Tango For Gods And Men is that album, and if you’ve any doubts as to the veracity of my claim I challenge you to press play at absolutely any point on this record and not register the same response. It’s that kind of an record.
First ‘proper song’ Seven Blades scythes from the speakers on the back of a superb riff before settling into an unforgiving grind; midway through the song our heroes morph into Deep Purple circa In Rock courtesy of some tasty Gillan-approved bongos and super heavy, growling organ work that Jon Lord would be proud of. Flexibility is the key here, as the band proves time an again it’s ability to turn on a musical dime whenever and wherever required.
Got The Devil By The Tail is an appealingly languid, bastardised blues, built on an easy drum and bass platform from Matt Hagan and Are Gogstad, over which singing guitarist Rick Hagan tells his tales of doom whilst Mags Johansen builds another wall of adamantine howl from his tortured hammond. The brooding interplay, packed with latent menace, between guitar and organ is truly classic in nature, again harking back to progressive rock’s early seventies heyday; however the band attack the task in hand with such vitality that this never sounds like a lazy exercise in nostalgia; Hagan adds a heavy metal edge with the fury of some of his solo playing, and as a whole the band play as if they have bags of power in reserve, ready to be unleashed at the tip of a hat in a way that their forbears and influences may only have dreamed of.
Hex A.D.’s knack for arrangement is prominent here, too; One Day of Wrath, Another Gesture of Faith may be one of three songs clocking in at over eight minutes in length on the album, but the band’s ability to fit each of those epic tracks together in the form of movements rather than relying simply on bludgeoning riff power means that the listener is often not even aware of the length of the compositions; rather, it’s easier simply to wallow in each set piece as it is presented. On this track the band even manage to give the established Kings of this style of progressive metal, Opeth, a run for their money.
Painting With Panic is a short sharp blast of heavy metal thunder before the band settles back into the Floydian reverie of Hell Hath No Fury; Strummed acoustic guitar forms a spartan backbone to the first part of the song over which the band ebb and flow through nearly five minutes of superbly wrought melancholy before the song explodes thanks to some explosively emotive lead work from Hagan. On an album full of highlights, this moment is first among equals…
All The Rage is once again the iron fist as opposed to the velvet glove, but even here the band shake expectation by allowing the organ to do the heavy lifting on the song’s verse riffs, creating a churning maelstrom of sound every bit as heavy as if things had just been left to Hagan and his Axe. Mags Johansen is very much the unsung hero of Hex A.D., but that might change after his consistently impressive performances on this album.
Closing with Positively Draconian, the band once again display their ability to run the gamut of musical emotion and impact, starting acoustically before slamming the hammer down for the song’s energised mid section; Matt Hagan and Gogstad keep the cruising speed high, motoring along without fuss as once again Rick Hagan and Johansen take the spotlight with a spiralling maelstrom of virtuosity; the song threatens to lose control but then – that consummate control again – the band reins hings in for a memorable, organ drenched finale.
Great stuff then, as Hex A.D. continue their inexorable – but most importantly very listenable – march to the top of prog metal’s Champions League – Essential listening, and then some…
Funeral Tango for Gods And Men releases on October 22nd.