Artist: Hail Spirit Noir
Title: Pneuma
Type: Album
Label: Code 666

I had a strong inkling of what this would be like, having heard work by Transcending Bizarre?, two of whose members are the inspiration behind Hail Spirit Noir. My expectation was of something unconventional and dark. “An amalgam of psychedelic elements, horror atmosphere and modern day black metal” is the description given in the band’s biography.

“Pneuma” deserves a health warning. The trick is that the music is sufficiently recognisable to draw you in, but unhinged to the point where it can mess with your brain. There are distinct tinges in the music of fellow Greeks Septic Flesh and Rotting Christ but Hail Spirit Noir have their own unique and at times experimental agenda. This album consists of many dark moods but it was perhaps the last track “Haire Pneuma Skoteino” which summed it up most for me. Retro-style keyboards impinged on a darkly understated and nightmarish piece. The image is of a house of horror inhabited by people who are “not quite right”. It’s very effective. The groove is good and it’s catchy. The grotesque element of Transcending Bizarre? is alive and well. There’s less theatricality here, but rather the basis is a mix of slow and mind-numbing rhythms as on the first track “Mountain of Horror” or more upbeat melodies as on “Against the Curse, We Dream” The added interest lies in the unexpected and layered nature of the music.

On “Mountain of Horror”, the dark output breaks off into an Ephel Duath style avant-garde jazz rhythm. Keyboards appear through the mayhem. It’s necessary to think in 3D. “Let Your Devil Come Inside” takes it further. Here the avant-garde chaos and change of pace are sandwiched by hippy trippy, spaced out vocals and acoustic guitar work. The growled vocals and dark sounds maintain the Black Metal aura. After the excellent groove of “Against the Curse, We Dream”, “When All is Black” takes us back into retro territory. The growls are there but it’s a subtle blend. In fact it’s quite dreamy. There’s a line about “constantly changing shapes” which recalls that hippy trippy feel. This is a really good track. It’s not conventional but it’s enticing, while having an outerworldly atmosphere which sucks us in like a black hole. The longest track is the 13 minute “Into the Gates of Time”. Strangely Hail Spirit Noir pack more into the shorter tracks. The darkened edge and sinister rhythm remain as the sound develops. There’s a whistling in the air, culminating in the hissing of insects which are interrupted by the disconcertingly occasional sound of the acoustic guitar. Far better is the catchy and horror-inspired final track “Haire Pneuma Skoteino”.

“Pneuma” is intriguing. Its intriguing gothic darkness is certainly bizarre and needs a broad listening span to be fully appreciated. It got into my head. I like it.

(7/10 Andrew Doherty)