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Now, I'm a fan of Sutekh Hexen. I like all of their previous releases. If you listened to them, you would know that they're pretty much noisy black metal riffs and...noise. But the previous releases were somewhat harsh and actually had some black metal in them; you could hear the black rasps and drums and whatnot, but this time it’s much more subtle, transcendental, and melancholic. Now of course it has plenty of black metal and noise, but it’s less obvious here since it can appear as some poor noise to the “inexperienced” ear.
The first track, “Isvar Savasana”, is a track composed of poignant synths, noisy drones, and remote guitar notes in the background. The distorted vocals build up along with the guitar sounds until it all crashes into a void of black noise. This is also proof that production helps noise artists as well; if it was shitty on this track, this would end up as a wall of ugly noise that does nothing but randomly clamor. Instead you have a dynamic arena of demonic vocals, drums and riffs, walls of blissful static, and other black noise paraphernalia. This sense is what helps the record from failing into an ugly salad of random noise.
The second track, “Lead Us in Warfare", is also the shortest one, opening with a doom-like riff and noise, then aptly changes into a martial rhythm with high, distorted vocals and crushing bass. The track plods in a lugubrious pace and creates the sense of a battlefield. The combination of the vocals and bass here sounds like some broken military equipment while its surroundings are being bombarded into oblivion. The vocals fade out and the bass lingers on some more in felicitous, primordial audio-terror.
The third and final track, “Let There Be Light”, is the zenith - dolorous and mournful, it brings forth stark and grim walls of bleak winters. At first, the track evokes a sense of an eternal and frostbitten winter with forlorn chants and howls until it breaks into flaring riffs accompanied with noise that slowly include a void-like guitar riff. It clearly shows that Sutekh Hexen knows its black noise and how to aptly deal with juxtaposed black metal and noise.
Larvae is an interesting album to say the least. It’s a meditation in chaos with many ideas and layers that most of them have been executed well enough. Naturally, it has some flaws. Some points aren’t clear enough while other ones aren’t engaging enough. There are many parts with generic studio pitch corrections, not enough awe-inspiring moments, and the likes. But if you like black noise, experimentation, or just need something new in your black metal, you should most definitely give this album a shot.
Originally posted at http://curseofthegreatwhiteelephant.blogspot.com/
I had not heard of Sutekh Hexen before I got this album but I had heard one of the band's members, Kevin Gan Yuen, on another recording with musician Demian Johnston, "Keep Your Hands", which had been mastered by Pete Swanson who I think was a member of the now defunct noise / drone improvisation group Yellow Swans. Wow, I sure live in a small world. Sutekh Hexen trade in a mix of black metal / noise which must be the latest trendy blackmetal fusion to come out of North America; I'm sure some people had been forecasting that for years as black metal in its more extreme forms is virtually indistinguishable from noise and all that was needed was a common musical philosophy and musicians and an audience sympathetic to both genres. This second album from Sutekh Hexen, "Larvae" proves to be much less noisy and more melodic and ambient than the band's pedigree might suggest. (I really ought to check out the early demos as they're said to be more noise of the dense speaker shredding type and blast beats recorded over and over again on crappy cassette tape to get that crackling ambience and less actual black metal.)
Opening track "Isvar Savasana" begins beautifully and quietly, building up slowly and ominously with insectoid and dripping wet ambience clicks, before erupting into full-on harsh and raw black metal blasts with a bass-heavy rumble and a stream of disembodied ghost vocalisations. Oddly the drums appear to be non-existent but they are buried very deeply in the very dense mix and they are felt as a blunt thumping presence. The guitars and bass careen madly all over the shop and spider-like ghost voices scream in the spaces between the guitars. The production is murky and blunts the edges of the music so while the raw quality is obvious, it seems very blunted and lo-fi.
"Lead Us in Warfare" has a suitably grungey bass-dominant chugging rhythm over which unearthly screams and howls and guitars screech and entwine themselves around the music while a monster voice drifts out of the darkness. Sharp sprays of toxic corrosive noise spew everywhere while the guitars crunch and chomp their way across a steaming battlefield and chew through burnt-out and hollow tanks and blown-up machinery. Voices mutter and chant through the black doomy surging lava as it spreads over the landscape, bringing blessed death to wounded soldiers left behind by enemy forces. A really monstrous and crunching sinister black noise song this is.
"La Det Bli Llys" (Norwegian for "Let There be Light") drifts into being as though from a misty northern land of eternal winter, never-ending night and snow and icescapes: amid sighs of hollow caves and soughing winds: an acoustic guitar takes up a mournful, elegiac tune and a voice delivers musings on what might be the end of the world as he knows it. Strange whisperings and a wet ambience suggestive of dripping rainforests and hidden insects lend an atmosphere of foreboding. The folky feel of the guitar and the entry of a clip-clop rhythm texture lend a country ambience to the music. Near the 10-minute mark the music starts building up urgently amid a babble of voices to a stand-still and then a sudden burst of chainsaw black metal with chunky riffs and a ghostly choir in the background. The repetitive rhythm can be quite mesmerising and the musicians themselves seem taken in by the revving roar as it continues all the way to the end.
This is quite a good introduction to Sutekh Hexen and the genre of music they represent: not very noisy but enough to attract a noise crowd reared on Wolf Eyes and Mammal and with also enough black metal rhythms and influences to keep a black metal crowd satisfied. The sound of the album may not please most people as its lo-fi, crappy-tape nature doesn't do much justice to the raw quality of the noise and black metal influences and needs to vary a lot more to capture atmosphere and give the music a three-dimensional, sculptured style.
How far can you go in the creation of harsh, ritualistic noise and still term the results "music"? Sutekh Hexen test those limits with their new album Larvae -- the first of their creations I've heard. They come pretty close to the bleeding edge -- and I say that as someone whose musical diet is confined largely to the kind of extreme metal that 99% of the world's population would scorn as "not music".
I found a quote from a musicologist named Jean-Jacques Nattiez that seemed relevant: "My own position can be summarized in the following terms: just as music is whatever people choose to recognize as such, noise is whatever is recognized as disturbing, unpleasant, or both." Of course, I would disagree with that conceptual dividing line (and I suspect Sutekh Hexen would, too). Some of the most powerful metal is both disturbing and unpleasant, just as life can be, and I would still call it music -- because listening to it is a human-generated experience that engages the mind and moves the emotions. Larvae certainly does that, and isn't that what music does?
This album is a paradox: Though it's often massively distorted, atonal, and violent, it's also hypnotic. It's often utterly unnerving, and yet it matches the explosiveness of rage with moments of hollow resignation and sensations of grief-ridden acceptance. Much of the music sounds like a massive turbine generator on the verge of going supernova, and yet it includes extended passages of subdued acoustic guitar melody that somehow don't seem out of place amidst all the background static. And as unsettling as the Larvae listening experience is, it's one that's likely to stay with you; it has certainly stayed with me.
The album consists of only three songs, but two of them are quite long: "Isvar Savasna" (9:40), "Lead Us In Warfare" (5:28), and "La Det Bli Lys" (Norwegian for "Let There Be Light") (15:03).
The first two and a half minutes of "Isvar Savasna" are consumed by a cloud of strange, skittering noises. Although the skittering noise doesn't abate, a muffled chiming of chords and a droning bass tone join the mix, leading eventually, at the 4:00 mark, to an eruption of distortion, barely human sounds of howling, and an attack of drumming. It's an explosion of blurred cacophony that eventually subsides, to be replaced by a synthesized ambience and more droning bass tones until a final sensory assault leaves the sounds of wreckage falling to the ground.
"Lead Us In Warfare", on the other hand, erupts almost from the beginning with blackened guitar chords, battering drums, and enraged vocals, all drenched in a storm of discordant turbulence. The storm's intensity abates somewhat as buzzing bass grinding and eerie susurration become dominant. But of course that doesn't last long. Screaming/chanting voices rise up, accompanied by the roar of what sounds like a distant battle being fought with photon weapons. The pulse of a beat becomes stronger, only to be drowned in static.
Speaking of static, the first ten minutes or so of "La Det Bli Lys" could be sub-titled, "A Concerto for Acoustic Guitar, Static, and Inhuman Voices". Against the backdrop drone of low-level scratchiness and occasional mysterious noises (pinecones!), a tranquil guitar melody repeats itself while a dark, deep voice methodically intones words, and other, more unhinged speakers occasionally babble from hidden corners.
But having heard the first two songs on the album, I was pretty sure this one wouldn't end before providing a good sideways skull-fucking, and so it did. The acoustic melody disappears and a heavily distorted series of repeating guitar riffs take its place, accompanied by an unceasing roar of abrasive howling, which might be a gale of electrified wind or mangled shrieks of agony or some mixture of the two. No less hypnotic than the long build of the first two-thirds of the song, it's more disturbing by orders of magnitude.
Larvae envelopes the listener in a typhoon funnel of blackened ash and radioactive waste, and yet its riotous, richly textured discordance proves to be mesmerizing and moving.