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Prog-Folk Team
4 stars This was supposed to be a review of the new HEXVESSEL album but, thanks to Spotify, careened into a rocky crag in the form of fellow Nordics HALLAS, a group that was unknown to me less than 24 hours ago. They dub themselves "Adventure Rock", which isn't a bad description though it doesn't necessarily tie in with their resolutely retro ambitions, espousing a love of the hard rock of the 1970s and the beat driven rock of the 1980s.

They have been compared to BLUE OYSTER CULT and URIAH HEEP but seem to have a consistently lighter touch, the frequency of sharp rhythm guitar backing notwithstanding. I would throw in CAMEL, FM, OSIRIS and NEKTAR (at their best) to complete the very rough character sketch. I'm intrigued by the amount of interest on metal websites, which I can only conclude must have been the work of shrewd marketing, opening up an appreciative and much larger audience. This is maybe not the most appropriate reference given its obscurity and stylistic divergence, but when I hear them jam with their upturned Scandinavian roots, I do think of Norwegians THOBY LOTH, who, while entirely instrumental and lacking the placid passages, share the epic qualities of a Saga, and I mean the tale not the group. Still, for all their influences, HALLAS has managed to carve their own initials in a tree littered with 50+ years of adoring odes to music that matters.

Of their two full length releases, this new one is certainly the pick, with superior, indeed irrepressible melodies and less emphasis on organ in deference to atmospheric keyboards. In addition, this time around the vocals are perfectly allocated for the style, emotive but not threatening. The gloriously energetic yet delicate "Beyond Night and Day" is the first highlight of many. "Tear of a traitor" is an exuberant folk based anthem. The even more buoyant "Carry On" is one of the few tracks, from the 1980s or otherwise, that could make me nostalgic for that decade.

The last few tracks dial up the prog meter enough to ensnare the remaining listeners and readers. "Labyrinth of Distant Echoes" engages both body and spirit, while reinventing itself more times than a mere 7 minutes might justify. This devotion on "Blinded by the Emerald Mist" and concludes with "Fading Hero". I'm sure the band had their reasons related to this being the final installment of a trilogy, but I think the album is a bit bottom heavy, overloading the most ambitious pieces at the end, where more balance in the running order might have better illuminated the work's ample joy. This may have left me with less of a conundrum as to the final rating, which is still a solid 4+ stars.

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Posted Saturday, August 22, 2020 | Review Permalink

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