Despite Veneration Of The Black Light being their debut release, Hagel, the intriguing atmospheric black/doom metal band from Monterrey, Mexico began their existence back in 1995. Given the complex issues that seem to have hampered the vision of guitarist Carlos Velázquez, it seems fitting that just as they solidified and recorded their debut album in the latter stages of 2019, the world was plunged into chaos and activities like live music became a casualty of the creeping global pandemic.
Now with a seeming light in the darkness beginning to emerge, Hagel finally step out of the shadows with eight tracks of multi-layered, goth tinged darkness that looks to make up for lost time.
Expanded to a five piece with Juan Reyes (Buzrael) on drums, Elizabeth Castillo (S.O.Y.G) on bass, Ivan Saldaña (Alpha Hydrae, Hiborym) on guitar/vocals and original keyboardist Luis Galindo, the band have an energy that harks back to the traditional metal sound prevalent in the mid nineties, but seeks to update it with a fresh energy.
Veneration Of The Black Light is very much influenced by bands synonymous with their founding era such as Paradise Lost circa Icon, The Gathering, Moonspell and even Rotting Christ, giving Hagel an air of pomp and grandiose scope that lies beyond being a pale imitation.
Opening with Decalogue Of Misery, the preview track from the album, there is the sweeping sound of synths and expansive guitar, balanced by commanding double bass and topped off by Ivan’s snarling, guttural delivery. Stately and slow in parts, this is a crushing introduction that breaks into faster thrashing passages that introduce head banging grooves. The track works through distinct phases – the plodding, authoritative main focus, faster, vicious and intense breaks that are then banished like the dark in the sunrise by the sprinkling of delicate keyboards.
The title track follows with a delicious goth infused melodic run, the rhythm section tumbles around grinding savagery as the band ramp up the tension to the title being spat with venom. Surprisingly short in nature, these tracks manage to feel hugely epic without actually (with the exception of the album closer) overstaying the five minute mark. As such the album feels like it flashes by in a comparative blur.
Blindness at times recalls the majesty of early nineties Iron Maiden and there are moments that could almost belong on the maligned No Prayer For The Dying album, but with better production.
The dense layers of keyboards on top of the trad and goth metal riffs show that Velázquez and Co are very much students of the game…
Veneration Of The Black Light sounds great as all the players are given their moments to shine. The dense layers of keyboards on top of the trad and goth metal riffs show that Velázquez and Co are very much students of the game. This is not to say that the band sound generic, or a pastiche, as they elegantly craft each track to deliver stories that build and release.
On Labyrinth Of Flesh there are moments that are crushingly heavy, but before you feel that you’re getting dragged down into the depths of despair, the band whisk you off on another journey which stops the album becoming repetitive and overbearing.
Mystery Of The Mortal on the surface has the same sequencing, but is a far superior track in which the drums are the star player, driving the faster riffs and hammering out the slower tempos. Pergamun (instrumental) is a symphonic, classically influenced piece that allows you to focus just on the band crafting a complex landscape that at times wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dimmu Borgir album.
Whims Of A God closes the album with an epic track that feels awash with all the gravitas an album titled Veneration Of The Black Light should command. The lengthy, impressive opener is an airy build to the vocals that again harks back to neo-classical styles, goth indulgence and pure heavy metal that rounds off perfectly with a stop start combination of all the tricks that came before, but brought together and focused into a single epic moment.
After waiting 16 years to finally unleash the vision of Hagel, you get the feeling that Velázquez had to shoot his shot right and Veneration Of The Black Light is a surprisingly good album. It does wear its heart on its sleeve at times and if I am being overly critical, the vocals could occasionally use a bit more variance in delivery, but these are really minor quibbles.
If you like gothic doom metal these guys should be ticking your wish list. The death metal flavoured vocals makes this blackened affair more grounded and it never strays into the more ridiculous territory trap that some bands fall into. To be honest I didn’t expect to like this album as much as I did and I’m happy to be proven wrong on this occasion.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden