Hexed – Pagans Rising


Swedish symphonic power metal quintet, Hexed, contained brother and sister, Teddy Möller (Loch Vostok) and Tina Gunnarsson on their 2018 debut. The former vacates the drum stool on album number two, but his presence is not as essential to the workings of the band as the core duo of Tina and Stellan Gunnarsson (Fuel for Nightmares). Hexed are an assembly of seasoned veterans from the diverse Swedish metal scene of the last three decades, and they know how to write an anthemic chorus. Unfortunately, they’re also the definition of a band that rely on the extraordinary voice of their singer.

Nonetheless, Pagans Rising starts with great promise. The powerful male belting vocals, symphonic flourishes and heavy palm-muted guitars are irresistible. There’s something missing in your blood circulation if you’re not possessed of the belief that you can smash your bare hand through a 50lb block of ice during the dramatic chorus. The stadium production and earth-rumbling double-kick drums are clearer than the icecaps of Antarctica in their awe-inspiring presence. Listen how Tina Gunnarsson expands her searing soprano voice to the limits of possibility. Wow! The next Unleash the Archers record will be an instant classic if it can match the pulse of follow up song, ‘Resurrection’. How does she project her voice at such volume and with such might?

If only the rest of the album could match the sensational dynamics and life-affirming power of the opening two tracks. The problems first appear on ‘Stigma Diaboli’, which starts with a macabre keyboard and groove metal riffing and reaches for a magnificent chorus. Yet the guitars lose importance in the mix as the rich keyboards and symphonic textures smother the life out of them. Of course, this is no problem for Tina Gunnarsson, who could subordinate a chamber orchestra to the majesty of her voice. You could enjoy this record for her stupendous voice alone, but this is a metal record, and we need guitars that can drive the songs forward rather than act as an escort for the other instruments. They chug away in the background to ‘Repentance’ like a last-minute inclusion. ‘Incantation’ buzzes with a mean bass guitar growl, but the six-string riffs need to be more imaginative. When they do accentuate the heavier elements, they run into the problem of relying on predictable structures. ‘Prophecy’ lasts for five minutes, but you’ve heard everything in half that time once they complete the second chorus round.

Fortunately, the standard of song writing is high enough to extricate Hexed from the dangers of repetition. Even the compositions with blunt guitars throb with an emotional intensity. “Somebody remember when I’m gone/ Someone reflect upon my time,” laments Tina Gunnarsson on ‘Moorfield’, in the throes of a bleeding heart confrontation with death. The Queensrӱche brilliance of the vocal lines and verse arrangements on ‘Blasphemy’ tell the story of the women who were unfortunate enough to be accused of witchery in seventeenth-century Sweden. You can feel their anxiety and defiant bravery in every word. Few singers of either gender could match the range and technique of Hexed’s remarkable frontwoman.

The beginning and end to Pagans Rising are some of the finest heavy metal histrionics you’ll hear all year, but the middle parts are too reliant on the vocals. A recalibration of the instruments should be a priority on the next record if they want to reach beyond the power metal and symphonic metal audiences. This reviewer started the album with great enthusiasm but ended the experience wondering how the guitars became so innocuous after track three.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 30/09/2022

Record Label: ViciSolum Productions

Standout tracks: Pagans Rising, Resurrection, Moorfield

Suggested Further Listening: Therion – Deggial (2000), Unleash the Archers – Abyss (2020), Nightwish – Wishmaster (2000)