Hexvessel - Polar Veil
Svart Records
Blackened Doom, Neofolk
8 songs (41:46)
Release year: 2023
Svart Records
Reviewed by Goat

As a fan of Matt "Kvohst" McNerney in his previous vocal iterations, not least a respectable outing with Dødheimsgard and appearing on some of Code's best albums, it has been a little harder for your correspondent to get to grips with his current project, Hexvessel. Leaving black metal behind altogether for something best summed up as psychedelic neofolk, the collective's albums have been enjoyable for what they are and simultaneously not really what you'd want to hear Kvohst doing. Still, news that the group's fifth album would take a hefty step towards black metal territory more than enticed, and on actually listening to Polar Veil it's easy to be swept away. As you'd expect from that title, this is a cold, frosty listen, driven by Kvohst's undeniably compelling clean singing and blackened tremolo riffing, like some unholy alliance between old-school Darkthrone and Urfaust at their most grandiose.

That's one hell of a combination, particularly so given that the hype bears fruit once you actually listen to Polar Veil and have your ears peeled back by the icy buzzing guitar that open The Tundra is Awake, closer to Burzum as fronted by a professional singer (no offence, Varg!) than the folky Wicker Man-soundtrack wannabes of past albums. And although there's not a great deal of variation as the album continues, the base sound here is impressive and atmospheric enough to keep your attention. Some backing vocals on Older Than The Gods give a grander feel, the slower riffs on Listen To The River and Ring more of a doomy vibe, but the essential riffs plus Kvohst formula remains compelling regardless.

On the likes of A Cabin in Montana the guitars are particularly enthralling, casting a dark spell alongside the steady drums, and Eternal Meadow increases the tempo to the point where the only thing stopping this from being pure black metal is the clean vocals. A little more of a whimsical note to Crepuscular Creatures stands out (in a poor way, if that's the kind of thing that annoys) yet it ends a little suddenly, making it the weakest piece present on a strong album. The band are best at their blackest and bleakest, closing track Homeward Polar Spirit rattling along especially chillingly - perhaps not a replacement for black metal, but a worthy addition to its pantheon and worth hearing for those who appreciate cold beauty.

Killing Songs :
The Tundra is Awake, A Cabin in Montana, Homeward Polar Spirit
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Hexvessel that we have reviewed:
Hexvessel - No Holier Temple reviewed by Alex and quoted 78 / 100
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