Philadelphia five-piece Hex Inverter may be intent on maintaining a low profile but their highly evolved take on meditative psych rock and its sub genres is bound to garner them more than just a modicum of success–boasting current members of Pennsylvania sibling act Empty Flowers (Mick Mullin-guitars, Christian McKenna-vocals/moog, and Andre Gallifi-drums/percussion), even their best attempt at anonymity (the only hint at their identity is each member’s capitalized three letter initial) is trumped by a stellar reputation that proceeds itself.
The band’s eight track eponymous debut (CD/DD and vinyl versions were released in February via Translation Loss and Redscroll Records respectively) is one of a growing number of albums by similar minded artists – take NYC’s Psychic Ills, or Manchester’s Dead Sea Apes for example – that abandons faddish trends of witchcraft props and gratuitous odes to Satanic/Occult lore and runs for the hills to an even darker and more intellectualized oasis – naturally, this ‘authenticity of sound’ has a longer artistic shelf life than the widening pool of over-reverbed, under-talented pseudo existential, post-whatever fodder that crowds most of the net these days. Hex Inverter is definitely on to something here; part cinematic score, part dark folk – it’s less about labels and more about balancing the extremes of tension and release through manipulation of mood and atmosphere. This end effect is effortless for the greatest storytellers and this band’s brew of heady shoegaze and bleak retro-futurism tells its own story that’s no less vital to the modern ear than classic Floydian prog or The Lamb Dies Down On Broadway era Genesis was (at the time) to the countless followers and fans craving their next hit of inspiration.
It’s inevitable that a collection of tracks like these would draw in some of the bigger ‘behind the scenes’ names in the genre – although produced and recorded by the band, James Plotkin (Khanate, Palms) handles all mastering duties with an extensive layout and design by famed artist Brian Azer (Sun Kil Moon, Jesu). The eight cuts run like a continuous dream, each competing layer of sound carrying a distinct personality. At once discordant and harmonious, the group thrives on the verge of dread, like caressing your neck with jagged glass – it’s a careful balance that tips in neither direction so you’re never completely at ease. Tracks like Led To This Place and Even For No One feel fractured in structure, fading in and out like ethereal wisps, with low end bass licks and muted drum loops providing rare anchorage amidst the group’s signature somber haze.
Most of the lyrics are unintelligible, the vocals masked by delayed and reverbed effects – the few discernible lines in the final minutes of album standout The Mission Statement (“…I don’t know the mission statement/I don’t know the cause…”) are repeated to the point of hypnosis, the suggested vulnerability overshadowing any semblance of warmth or vibrancy the song’s remaining arrangements could convey. But the band takes its cues from some of the understated heroes of folk and hard rock – Mark Kozelek’s (Sun Kil Moon, Red House Painters) snap shot ballads never truly shed their unmistakable melancholia; even the trickles of major chords and upbeat melody are tempered by lyrics of death and failure. It’s this understanding of life, as we see it and live it, rather than what we want or wish it to be, that makes an album like Among The Leaves (Sun Kil Moon) simultaneously unnerving and relatable – Hex Inverter’s Into The Hills, with its light acoustic flourishes and rising nauseant suspense manages this same juxtaposition with equal dexterity.
Bruise seethes and pummels as a riff on the final minutes of Sonic Youth’s The Sprawl – it’s as if Kim Gordon turned her youthful angst inward for an 8 minute introspective tangent while Lamb pays subtle tribute to the great gothic albums of the late 1980s, falling somewhere between 1987’s Floodland (The Sisters Of Mercy) and the rockier moments of Dead Can Dance’s debut; it’s a varied sonic mixture, but the band’s influences mesh nicely without obscuring the group’s wholly original vision.
After the record’s final moments you’re left wondering where you’ve been travelling for the past 40 minutes and how the hell you’re going to do it again. I’d say that’s a successful journey.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore