Surely the album title should actually be ‘All Hug A Tree’ but I guess that would have been a bit too obvious even if it is the sort of practice Finnish forest folk Hexvessel do on a daily basis. Not that their journey started in Finland or was one of quite such peaceful earthly pursuits. Helmed by Brit musician Matthew McNerney who started out with the adoption of the name Khvost in bands such as Void, Code and Dodheimsgard and now primarily Hexvessel and Grave Pleasures (previously Beastmilk) are his main outfits. Yes Hexvessel are a very mellow affair and one that I and fellow forward thinking metal heads have embraced since first album Dawnbearer back in 2011. I guess you could call them a bit of a mysterious enigma as their music is primarily folk etched, drenched with the calming tones of the vocalist taking us to very different places than we normally tread. It’s one totally away from the keyboard and screen in front of me and one that has the listener treading back into nature and a time that is uncluttered by all the trimmings of modern life.
Just to get you in the mood for that here, the album even starts with a blessing! Perhaps that’s to ward off an evil spirits as this is an album steeped in tales of olde and the ghostly trappings of ancient history. With the intro rich in vocals male and female it does indeed sound like something from the Canterbury folk scene as it has been described. Don’t let that put you off too much, I can’t bloody abide Caravan either but once the gorgeous sublime melody of ‘Son Of The Sky’ hits I am absolutely enraptured and every time I hear it now I am greeted back like an old friend who I haven’t seen in years. It’s simple but so effective and although brand new, timeless and indeed “this is the way of the ages.” You will be singing along quickly, indeed songs like this pretty much command it. Coming from a rich storied history I guess everyone will take things from the past on hearing this and if off a certain age will be blowing the dust off old record collections. Instrumentally it flows with acoustic lushness, never urgent, never hurried, strings and traditional instruments babble away and the song-craft and marriage of Matt and Marja Konttinen’s vocals is perfection. The title track has Matt sounding like the ghost of a long dead folk singer taken at a tragically early age and lauded by future generations. Gorgeous though the mellow passages that trickle along over 13 songs are they are not all happy, happy, hippie, hippie there is a yearning and a passion behind them but very much a feeling of funeral rites, going back to the earth and loss. The summer is over, love is a memory and pain and suffering are never far away. The maudlin tones of the sumptuous ‘Changeling’ kind of sum this up and it will send shivers down the spine like someone has walked over your grave. The plaintive urge to “come back home” being almost like a cry to return back to it or maybe if not the grave, the womb. ‘Ancient Astronaut’ proves that there is a sense of joy too and the more electric instrumental weave of it infects; the chorus almost like a call to enter the Age of Aquarius!
A few instrumental numbers are very much part of the overall trip and in no way seem as padding but bridging gaps between the main narrative thrust of songs like longest album track ‘A Sylvan Sign’ Birdsong and pastoral melody on this one has the essence of campfire and a new day dawning. It’s music for a free festival without all the trappings of commerciality that have infected the dismal spirit of the current age. Not breaking this ‘Wilderness Spirit’ and the touch of the gods of old is entrenched in the pagan spirit of the album and it is a joy to follow and immerse yourself in. ‘All Tree’ strikes as a deeply personal album not just one that is telling fables but one also based on the evolvement of personal discovery. It’s definitely an album that a conscientious listener will take some deeper level of understanding away with them from experiencing it although I do acknowledge that sounds deeply hippy in itself (man). I’m not sure if we get a happy ending with ‘Closing Circles’ but I can describe it as the ballad that Nick Cave missed composing himself and it is a song which like much of the album will haunt long after the closing bars.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)