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Hail's most ambient and least BM release - 75%

drengskap, October 4th, 2009

Seeds is the first in a series of four limited-edition self-released CD-Rs from the resurrected experimental black metal band Hail, following the 2009 release of Crimson Madrigal, a collection of recordings from 1998 and 1999. In a personal communication, Set Sothis Nox La of Hail explained to me the rationale behind these releases:

Part of the reason [for so many releases appearing simultaneously] was that we had built up a catalog of songs over the past two years. When FaunaSabbatha originally talked about releasing Crimson Madrigal, it was to be a regular CD with color booklet. In the end it became, as all of their releases, a limited CD-R with simpler packaging. We decided that we could essentially do the same ourselves. Thus, with the series of shows with Fauna we wanted to both have merch and also just release the recordings as is. Each in order of their release numbers correspond to the sets of songs that we created around the same time. Working in groups of songs, some being later modified, and thus also hopefully explaining the repetition of some of the songs. All of these releases are essentially demos. But the term is partly irrelevant as I do not want to follow the ‘kvlt’ black metal groups that prioritize ‘demos’ over ‘actual releases’. They are what they are, snapshots in time in the radically divergent music interests of both Carl and I.

With reference to this last point, it’s important to note that Seeds is a dark, introspective work, with some atmospheric ritual ambient music, but there’s nothing really resembling black metal here, so fans of Set Sothis’ other band, L’Acéphale, may not necessarily find what they’re looking for.

Seeds contains six tracks, totalling 40 minutes. The Hail line-up at the time of recording consisted solely of Set Sothis Nox La and Carl Annala. The album opens with ‘Don’t Leave The Fire’, which has an archaic-sounding wooden flute playing over the sound of crackling flames and a distant background of thin, wintry ambient drones. ‘Don’t Leave The Fire’ segues straight into the much longer second track, ‘Go Forth Through The Darkness – Marjatan Virsi’. This title is one of the many references to Finnish culture and mythology which are found scattered throughout Hail’s work – ‘Marjatan Virsi’ is Finnish for ‘Marjatta’s Hymn’. Ambient, phased background drifts and drones are punctuated by hypnotic, repeating metallic percussion, something like ritual ambient projects such as Chaos As Shelter or HATI. There’s a very cold, remote atmosphere to this track. The last couple of minutes feature a sampled vinyl recording of an old woman chanting the Kalevala in Finnish – the ‘Marjatan Virsi’ referred to in the title.

‘It Comes’ is largely a drone-based ambient piece, with textured low-end rumble and phantasmal mid-frequency tones interrupted by distant, distorted piano, fragmentary reverbed vocals, electronic burbles and rattle percussion, whilst ‘The Poison’ returns to the chiming metal percussion of ‘Go Forth Through The Darkness’, combining this with detuned twanging strings and drawn-out vocal groans.

‘The Cold Grain’ is very different to the rest of the album, being based around gentle strummed acoustic guitar, with background chanting and shamanic throat singing. The title is a reference to Hagal, the Hail rune which is repeatedly referenced in Hail’s songs and artwork (in the six-pointed asterisk-like form that the rune takes in the Younger or Viking Futhark, as distinct from the H-like form it takes in the Elder and Anglo-Saxon Futharks). The Icelandic Rune Poem includes this stanza:

Hagall er kaldakorn
ok krapadrífa
ok snáka sótt.

which translates as:

cold grain
and shower of sleet
and sickness of serpents.

The equivalent stanza in the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem is:

Hægl byþ hwitust corna;
hwyrft hit of heofones lyfte,
wealcaþ hit windes scura;
weorþeþ hit to wætere syððan.

which translates as:

Hail is the whitest of grain;
it is whirled from the vault of heaven
and is tossed about by gusts of wind
and then it melts into water.

The two poems share the image of the hailstone as a seed or grain. Esoterically, Hagal is considered to represent violent, destructive change. The hailstone is, if you like, a seed containing the potential for radical transformation. A text on the inner sleeve of Seeds elaborates on this theme:

Hail, Hagalaz. First rune of the second Aett:
Symbolic with dark feminine power and the
disruptive forces operating in the unconscious,
Prompting necessary change;
Seeds of destruction… and rebirth.

Since this concept is so central to Hail’s work, it seemed worth discussing this at some length. And ‘The Cold Grain’, along with ‘Go Forth Through The Darkness’, is the most interesting track on Seeds – Hail were to return to and rework both of these tracks later in the CD-R series.

The title of the final track on Seeds, ‘Straasha’, is presumably a reference to Straasha, the king of the sea elementals in the Elric fantasy series by Michael Moorcock. The 11-minute ‘Straasha’ is, like ‘Go Forth Through The Darkness’, a cold ambient drone piece, with ritualistic, invocatory chants, echoing primordial horns, and extensive use of hand percussion, including bells, rattles and wooden claves.

Seeds is a black CD-R in a folded card sleeve with stickers, and it’s a miniscule limited edition of 30 copies. Since the chances of tracking down a copy of this are remote, my reviews of this release and the three subsequent releases in this series are intended largely as a matter of historical record.

This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine: