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Hexvessel - All Tree CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.18 | 3 ratings

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3 stars For their fourth full length release, Mathew McNerney and his "forest-folk" collective HEXVESSEL have stepped back into the woods after a brief foray with the more electrified approach on "When we are Death". "All Tree" actually blends the attenuated aspects of that album with the acoustic reverie of "No Holier Temple" and "Dawnbearer" and the product is pleasing to the ear more so than revolutionary, which may well be as intended.

The album's most succinct statements occur at the outset, with the oh so curt but essential "Blessing" yielding instantaneously to "Son of the Sky", with emotive vocals, a dynamic rhythm guitar riff and even a spooky chanted passage towards the denouement. Spotty comparisons to similarly focused prog folk bands like MIDLAKE ("Provider") and DEAD CAN DANCE are apt. The coda includes a rare but pointed lead guitar solo. "Old Tree" is the quasi title track and, while its musings are hardly original - think of all the events to which a dying centuries-old tree might have seen - its presentation brilliantly encapsulates a wistful awe, thanks in part to guest violin by Daniel Pioro. The song also portends a somewhat new philosophical direction for HEXVESSEL. While prior albums held out some hope or at least longing, "All Tree" seems more genuinely optimistic, more assured in its vision, whatever antagonistic world events might and surely will intervene. This shift is crystallized in "Sylvan Sign", which is perhaps a bit artificially elongated but still lovely in parts. It's this conviction in the superiority of the "old ways" that fuzzily demarcates the "neo folk" genre for better and worse.

Other favorites are "Ancient Astronaut", with its pulsating acoustic backdrop and perhaps the best lead guitar solo on the disk, all the better for its economical support to the message, and the bluesy downer "Birthmark", which offers an offset to the overall mood while a bonding exercise for those not seen as "normal". It reminds me of the earnest simplicity of the solo works by former RENAISSANCE and ILLUSION man JAMES MCCARTY. The remainder alternates brief ambient excursions that seem more like links to the vocal tracks with vocal tracks that are almost as spare and terse, sweet sounding but not particularly substantive. Even here, notable touches are the electric piano on "Journey to Carnac", and the deliberately tentative finale "Closing Circles" maintain quality standards throughout.

I'm starting to wonder if HEXVESSEL has a true masterpiece in them, but their roots and branches remind us where we came from and where we are going. It might be the same place, but I can't be the only one who finds that a comforting thought.

kenethlevine | 3/5 |


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