Despite a relatively short period of existence (and one that was majorly disrupted due to global events) Occult Hand Order, the three-piece Lyon-based French mystical rockers have busied themselves since their inception. The first of two well-received EPs, the 2019 Self-Titled debut was four tracks of doom-flavoured stoner rock which was followed up by the almost album-length The Chain That Burned The Wounded a year later.
Such endeavours saw them get selected for a slot on Weedian’s Trip to France (2021) and Doomed & Stoned’s …in France Vol II (2023) which has led to a degree of critical acclaim and the opportunities to grace European stages in pursuit of taking their heady blend of psychedelic, heavy cosmically inspired riffage to the masses.
Finally making their long-playing debut with the independently released Silence By The Raging Sea, the Gallic trio look to solidify their identity with six tracks, the majority of which stretch the run time and showcase their ability to create crushing, yet beautiful sounds in an exhilarating soundscape that looks to firmly establish them as contenders in the packed European stoner scene.
Drawing on influences which tick the boxes of traditional bands such as Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard, they attempt to harness this potential with the more contemporary flavourings of acts like fellow Frenchmen Mars Red Sky and Göteborg’s Monolord.
Sink begins the album with crisp drumming courtesy of Tony Duvillard before the lush tones of Nico Fabre (guitar) and Hugo Zepah (bass and vocals) join to swell the sound into one of heavy cosmic psych. This dreamy, echoey sound evolves into a thick heavy fuzz, not unlike the spacey tones of Sergeant Thunderhoof, as they look to combine a layer of drone that balances the mellow tones with a harder edge to the deceptively chunky riffs.
When Zepah’s vocals join the fray, they do so in a dreamy, drifting reverb that slowly starts shifting up a gear and morphing as the music tightens in a muscular crunch into harder territory. Just as it reaches its peak, they relax back into that ethereal tranquillity teasing the listener.
As with several bands of note lately, the vocals tend to sit back in the mix and become part of the instrumentalisation which is great for the overall sound of the album, but less helpful for fans of lyrical craft as initially trying to pick out the words of this seeming nautical themed album distracts from the focus of the whole piece. A small matter though as the band works through the phases that envelope you in a thick soup of noise.
Sailors tentative opener pulses with the plodding contrast of the bass against the high notes before erupting into the darker side of the band as the deliberately murky sound makes the proceedings deceptively heavy and moody which sets up the way-washed solos and instrumental breaks that refuse to settle into a singular groove. Instead, they circle and shift in a sound that oscillates between clean, almost classical and pulverising doom complete with tortured screams.
ability to create crushing, yet beautiful sounds in an exhilarating soundscape…
This drone-heavy fuzz continues on Pyre, one of two mammoth-length tracks that top the ten-minute mark. Opening with suitably muted atmospheric notes, Occult Hand Order waste little time ringing in the towering riffs that stomp and plod, the open chords delaying the moment before the pummelling. Once again contrasting this slow ferocity with the galactic leanings of the band’s more psychedelic side, the extended run time gives the trio the chance to flex and indulge their more progressive instincts.
A chanting, choral opening cannot deflect from the heavy-as-hell undertones of Fever as the drums pound and smash with force and the continual, nagging feedback links the hypnotic mellow passages to the moments when the band let fly with full force. The flow ebbs in and out, seemingly like they are caught in a collective delirium that the otherworldly, just-out-of-reach, vocals reflect and as you almost grasp a tangible moment, it feels like you are dragged under by the weight of the suffocating low end.
Tidal Wave features additional sounds like the lapping ocean and whale calls as the clean singing and light guitar flourishes paint a dainty picture that offers respite from the oppressive atmosphere of the previous track. Even when the building dynamics swell, it is still comparatively restrained, giving off an emotional feel enhanced by a poignant spoken word passage that is ambiguous in its direction or intention.
Concluding with the heartfelt Golden Bones the band rounds off Silence By The Raging Sea in haunting fashion continuing the introspective feel of the proceeding number with the second epic-length track. Downbeat, but tender and beautiful, every member has their moment to shine as they shift through airy passages to a more powerful emphasis on the message that builds towards a high dramatic climax. It’s easily the most stirring number on the album and holds your focus until the tender lament which sees Zepah alone, crooning unaccompanied in a heartfelt sigh.
With this latest album, Occult Hand Order have made bold strides from their debut that they should rightly be proud of. In comparison, Silence By The Raging Sea is a far more mature offering that should see fans of heavy psych music, stoner, prog, and doom sit up and pay interest.
It is probably not going to trouble my end of year best of list as there are a couple of things holding it back, such as the muted vocals that I feel should probably shine more and a slight reliance on the loud-to-spacey formula that lends the album a certain predictability that may provide comfort to others. That said, when the band connects and fully commits, they show themselves as talented and worth listening to. If they keep on this trajectory, then they are definitely ones to watch for.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden