Last year’s All Tree was a monumental achievement for self-proclaimed “psychedelic forest folk” troupe Hexvessel. Full of wonderfully ethereal male/female harmonies, vigorously rustic and multilayered instrumentation, and absolutely enchanting melodies, it was a harrowing yet beautiful work of art. Miraculously, the Finnish troupe returns roughly a year later with likely an even more significant sequence, Kindred. Weightier, darker, and odder than its precursor, the LP is a serenely sinister gem that wholly possesses you from the moment it’s invoked.
As usual, the quintet employs several vocalists and a wide array of classical timbres—such as viola, trumpet, piano, and violin—to bring their spiritual woodland strangeness to life. In the process, they effortlessly channel both forebearers (Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention, etc.) and modern peers (Anekdoten, Dungen, Hällas, Osi and the Jupiter, etc.) Mastered by John Davis (whose list of past collaborators, such as Lana Del Rey and Gorillaz, is quite eclectic), Kindred is designed to encapsulate “blues-laden psych-rock and progressive structures [that] harken back to King Crimson.” Without a doubt, the record captures the dissonant fervor of Robert Fripp’s groundbreaking band, but with a healthy dose of occult flair and symphonic accentuation.
The album wastes no time ensnaring you in its 1970s-esque macabre splendor, as its opener, “Billion Year Old Being,” feels like the evocative countrified offspring of early Black Sabbath and new Opeth. Mathew "Kvohst" McNerney sings with as much prophetic chill as ever, leading to arresting verses and (with help from his backing vocalists) haunting chants. All the while, vintage keyboard notes swell around coarsely manic guitar work and unkempt rhythms. It’s easily among the heaviest and most intricate rockers they’ve ever done, although it has some gorgeously softer spots, too.
Thankfully, the group spread such condensed hecticness around the rest of the sequence. For instance, “Demian” conjures Led Zeppelin at their most raucous and paganistic; “Sic Luceat Lux” is an unsettling interlude comprised of slow percussion and off-kilter chimes and guitar strums; and “Phaedra” slows down to evoke the bellowing divinations of Nick Cave amidst tribal beats and a cumulatively unholy atmosphere. It truly sounds like Hexvessel are summoning something demonic, yet you can’t help but be entranced by it all.
That’s not to say that Kindred is without glimpses of decorative calmness and purifying, though. Far from it, as there are many stunningly peaceful and luscious arrangements afoot. Their cover of Coil’s “Fire of the Mind,” for instance, is a persevering ode full of steadfast acoustic guitar arpeggios, bawling strings, and ardent singing. Afterward, “Bog Bodies” is slightly jazzy as it captures the empty seductiveness of a David Lynch soundtrack, whereas “Kindred Moon” is heartfelt and easygoing, using piano chords and other warm timbres to full effect. Undoubtedly, the standout of the whole thing is “Magical & Damned,” a spellbindingly heartfelt and urgent ballad that oozes tastefulness and trauma. It’s downright awe-inspiring.
Kindred isn’t quite as inviting as All Tree since it focuses more on nuanced bizarreness and greater juxtapositions between gentle observations and menacing commandments. It’s precisely because of that enhanced challenge and atypical direction, however, that makes it so gratifying and enduring. It’s clear that every word, note, and melody here is meticulously arranged to either delight or disturb (often simultaneously); as a result, it sets a new benchmark not only for Hexvessel, but for present-day explorations of the style as a whole.