French quartet, Hypno5e, are one of the most ambitious bands in the world. They call their music cinematographic metal and would not be offended if you called their art pretentious. After all, this is the type of avant-garde metal that includes recitals of poetry by Jean Cocteau, charango rhythms, and melodies that would not be out of place on a Sigur Rós album. Yet behind this experimentation is a forceful metallic spasm that refuses to be pigeonholed into anything conventional. You’d think their aim is to fill the void left by Maudlin of the Well on album number six. This is a fascinating record for the analytical mind.
It’s no surprise to hear the Spanish poetry of César Vallejo in opening song, ‘Sheol, Pt. I – Nowhere’. This is a French band, and they see self-indulgence as a virtue. The dark ruminating bass notes and circular finger-picking rotations of the acoustic guitar set the scene for a mystical film set in the thrill of a lonely woodland. (Actually, the band want to transport you to the extinct Lake Tauca of Bolivia if you find time to read the story behind this album.) You can hear a riff brewing as a segue to track number two, and it’s a schizophrenic outburst of aggression in the manner of Gojira’s angular groove metal stylings. A multitude of stop-start sequences of syncopated guitar shapes and razor-sharp drum accents open the proceedings in the ten-minute drama of ‘Sheol, Pt. II – Lands of Haze’. You’ll spend most of the time wondering if a structure exists. One thing is indisputable – these four musicians are good enough to let the music flow through myriad dynamics and tempos as if performing in telepathic harmony. Listen how they alternate between effulgent guitars with luscious vocal harmonies and dexterous metallic rage. Hypon5e are like a technical version of their French compatriots in Klone but with more emphasis on the avant-pop of Royksopp and Björk to counter their heavier moments.
The lazy comparison on this album would be with Radiohead. ‘Bone Dust’ suggests that Gojira’s Kid A moment might sound like this record if they decide to return with a year zero piece of experimental metal. Cellos and playful guitars unite in a mischievous embrace for the first two minutes before the drums and bass establish a rhythm for the guitars to emerge with a finger-tapping melody. Emmanuel Jessua puts as much effort into the melancholia of his rich dual harmonies as he does into the aggression of his hardcore rage. The two co-exist with no friction. Only one anxiety seeps through in the method, and that’s the band’s determination to prove their tech metal credentials every time you fear that the golden meadows and buttercup breeze in their melodic phrasings will send you into a daydream. Tantrums of distorted guitar violence and manic drum fills interrupt any prospect of this happening, almost like an extended metal version of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’.
‘Tauca, Pt. I – Another’ is one of the few times where they trust their instincts and keep things boxed up in a warm reminiscence of delicate guitars and glowing vocal melodies. It’s surprising how these serene moments are just as effective as the heavier ones. Jessua is near to a cappella in the intro to ‘Lava from the Sky’, yet he takes a step back at the halfway mark to lead his bandmates through two minutes of relentless drum and guitar grinding as if overusing a knife sharpener for the sake of seeing how lethal the blade can be. How do they filter in a frenzied rush of thrashing guitar seizures when the mood starts to soften? Sheol would be the ideal present for Genghis Tron to remind them of the corrective action needed on their next LP. Imagine the last two Cynic albums but with better vocal textures and longer compositions.
There’s no doubt that Hypno5e ask a lot of you. The length of the songs will overwhelm if you pre-empt the listening experience with a sigh. That’s understandable. Four of the eight tracks here pierce through the nine-minute barrier. Closing song, ‘Slow Steams of Darkness, Pt. II – Solar Mist’, uses its twelve minutes of existence to rectify the concerns of a metal audience. Unlike the other numbers, this one switches between intricate melodic lamentations and murderous guitar eruptions in equal measure. You can’t call their more introspective moments “post-rock”. The guitars are too melodic and theoretical in their determination to capture a felicitous mood. Nor do the heavier moments settle into a post-metal depression. Their wild currents of guitar noise conjure images of an overflowing bath tub thrusting through the floor and into the room below. The unpredictable rhythms are long enough to avoid the illusion of repetition. Maybe the sequences have a reference point for each musician to find in their most complex moments, but you’ll struggle to identify it.
It might be a puzzle after multiple listens, but Sheol is that rare phenomenon – a self-indulgent record that preys on your mind. You should see it as an enigma to crack on the next hearing. This album is worth your time and perseverance.
Release Date: 24/02/2023
Record Label: Pelagic Records
Standout tracks: Sheol, Pt. II – Lands of Haze; Lava from the Sky; Slow Steams of Darkness, Pt. II – Solar Mist
Suggested Further Listening: Sigur Rôs – Ágætis Byrjum (2000), Gojira – The Link (2002), Ianai – Sunir (2022)