Brisbane metallers, Hebephrenique, are as secretive as an industrial spy. Are they a duo? When did they form? Fortunately, they allow some information to reach the public domain. Their entry in Encyclopaedia Metallum lists five musicians but gives no date for their formation. One thing we cannot dispute is their experience – all members have a lengthy involvement in the Australian extreme metal scene. Non Compos Mentis is a self-assured debut EP of twenty-nine minutes that blurs the lines between death and black metal without favouring one over the other.
Hebephrenique authorised their press campaign to promote their music as a cross between Gorguts and Mayhem, but opener, ‘An Insane Cacophony’, starts like a Living Colour riff reworked by Ved Buens Ende. They soon jump into the blast beat grinder as the quirky guitars battle with the bass and drums like cavalry outflanking armoured tanks. Vocalist, Kris Wolf, refuses to conform to a death metal stereotype, instead using his microphone like an alchemist fighting for his life in fifteenth-century England – he will have his revenge on the hordes who drag him to the scaffold. And yet this band can find melody in the most unusual chord formations. Dødheimsgard and Arcturus fans will appreciate the crazy brutality of this song. Riffs fly through the amps with psychopathic intensity as Wolf imagines himself as a sinister wizard casting spells on his enemies. The drums add more rolls than a bowling club.
What motivates the band members to celebrate their love of metal with such a blatant nod to their youth? ‘The Curse of Biology’ is what Marduk would sound like infiltrated by The Amenta. You’d think vocalist Kris Wolf woke up in agony after a botched surgical operation. One moment your head loops in unison with the vibrato-heavy doom; the next passage rips through the harmonic minor scales in tremolo mode. The action is relentless. A Slayer groove solidifies the chaos into something more tangible at 03:48 seconds. Your eyes will bulge until they ache. The air guitar beckons, but you want to lick the morsels between your teeth as if contemplating the human flesh that you just devoured. How clever to follow it with four minutes of eerie instrumental ambience in ‘Waking’. Panic-inducing keyboard swells creep up on you like a pack of wolves. It’s the moment in the gripping crime-drama when the fresh-faced detective realises that his boss is nothing more than a corrupt sociopath. How did these egregious things stay hidden in plain sight for so long?
Wolf finds an impressive reserve of superhuman strength in ‘Homicidal Ambivalence’ with a heroic Incredible Hulk show of strength and a sordid Beetlejuice smile. This song is old school death metal from the first note, but as if somebody asked a precocious but mischievous youth to draw a vision of hell with a 2B pencil. Is Hebephrenique’s vocalist a serious transgressor or a caricature of one? The murderous aggression would be amusing it you didn’t have doubts at the back of you mind about the sanity of it all. Why can’t the latest Suffocation album do the same to keep you entertained?
Closing track, ‘Non Compos Mentis’, is the most black metal song on the EP. Dissonant chords swerve at the end of each bar like bullets changing course in diagonal formation. The voice phrasings resemble an extreme metal drama lifted from David Bowie and processed through the sinister outbursts of Niklas Kvarforth (Shining). Nine-and-a-half minutes is a risky way to end an EP, but Wolf assumes many personalities as the guitar riffs hack away at your skull like an overzealous gravedigger. This is how you deliver a sermon to the hecklers with a sack over your head and your hands bound by your executioner. Listen to the morbid incontinence of the voice at 07:18 during the slower rumination of bass and clean guitar. It invokes an end-of-life patient asking for a bowl of pasta through wheezing lungs, only to be greeted by blank facial expressions.
Non Compos Mentis needs only one more song to pass for an album. Perhaps the myriad different projects of the musicians involved limited their time and commitment in the studio? Either way, this is record you can return to with a sinister smile.
Release Date: 31/10/2023
Record Label: Gutter Prince Cabal / Brilliant Emperor Records
Standout tracks: An Insane Cacophony, Homicidal Ambivalence
Suggested Further Listening: Nixil – From the Wound Spilled Forth Fire (2023), Reeking Aura – Blood and Bonemeal (2022), Cult Burial – Reverie of the Malignant (2023)