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Hibernal - Replacements CD (album) cover




Post Rock/Math rock

3.90 | 115 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars "Have you ever given something up only to spend the rest of your life trying to get it back?" - Sabel.

Hibernal return in 2014 with a followup to the impressive album "The Machine". I had hailed the debut album as one of the masterpieces of the year; a sublime journey into dark and mysterious things, a nightmarish vision of a possible future where machines will take over slowly and we become part of the machine. The main drawcard for me, and the fundamental component of one of the albums of the year for me, was the concept behind it that was presented in a wonderful blend of stirring hypnotic musicianship and dramatic dialogue professionally delivered with passion.

On this latest release "Replacements" the concept has transformed into a takeover of replicants, half human half machine beings that are hiding in the overcrowded city. A cop is on the hunt for one suspect Sabel and she is protected by a stranger who becomes entranced by her enigmatic beauty and isolated status. The story will sound familiar to anyone who has enjoyed sci fi dystopias such as "The Fifth Element" or more blatantly "Blade Runner" right down to the perpetual rain and unlikely romantic obsession between human and replicant. Sabel is akin to "Blade Runner"'s Rachel, a femme fatale that is both enticing and dangerous, marked as a synthetic. The story plays out like a 1940s Film Noir straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel with a Phillip Marlowe narrative voice; "she looked so vulnerable, so lonely, standing there amongst the shrouded figures in the falling rain?".

The vocal of the main protagonist, the anti-hero Artimus, is voiced by Scott Gentle, who at times is reminiscent of Harrison Ford's Deckard from "Blade Runner"; American, indifferent, reflective, tortured. He is a strong presence and outlines the proceedings as his descent into Sabel's jaded world becomes deeper. Sabel is beautifully voiced by the sultry husky tones of voice actor Faleena Hopkins. Her image on the album cover is depicted as an iconic heroine with painted on black leather catsuit and Manga-like jet black hair. I was reminded instantly of Aeon Flux. She is turning to look at an unknown voyeur, a key sequence on the album as she lines up for transportation to escape, moments before being rescued by Artemis from certain capture by Roegner, a solid performance from Steve Van Becku. Later as the story develops we will meet a Clerk played by Chip Wood, an integral character for reasons that I will not divulge here. I believe part of the magic of this album is to discover how things evolve, and some of the twists and turns are unexpected, including the striking character of Sabel and her intentions. The ending is quite complex and leaves room for conjecture, and I was pondering on what unfolded days later. Like a good mystery novel there will be many interpretations and this story is not as clear cut as one might perceive initially, and left this reviewer in the dark at first.

All the instruments, except for Rowan Salt's bass, are played by Mark Healy, and he is superb on every level. Healy knows how to move from ambient darkness, with keyboards and guitar reverberations, into heavy blasts of aggression, with distorted guitar and synthesizer crescendos. The non stop music is exciting, building dramatically and patiently at first until things go terribly wrong for the protagonist. In a similar way to "The Machine", this latest album is replete with long instrumental passages that help to tell the story and the vocals come in at intervals to keep the story moving, at times acting as stark transitions. The guitar delay is punctuated by drums and synthesizer swathes. It is a cinematic experience and the imagination is enlightened by the impassioned voices and effects. The falling rain and howling wind really adds to the atmosphere, painting a canvas of mystique and intrigue. The voices move from heartfelt intonations, to desperate pleas and agitated heated disputes, especially on 'Truth'.

Highlights include the quintessential part of the plot, 'The Place Where You Hide', such an atmospheric piece, followed by a Pink Floyd pulsating bass, sporadic cymbals, odd nuances of synths and some of the most dramatic dialogue on 'Machinations'. The music then takes on a dreamy ambience on 'Time Runs Out', and some suspenseful vocals then a guitar delay similar to some music on "The Machine". When Artemis is in the car one may almost sense the anxiety he feels with that drifting keyboard and contrasted with metal distorted guitar chugging. It brings to mind the feeling of driving on an empty highway with the moon beckoning down, and a white line dashing intermittently. 'Truth' has a strong drum beat and heavy guitars contrasted by some gentle tones. The track builds with powerful riffs off the rhythm, some of the best guitar work on the project. Musically 'Fallout' is also one of the strongest, with a tantalising hypnotic guitar rhythm and some glorious distortion to break up all the ambience. I like that serrated edge riff and the way the track moves into an elongated tuning fork effect with layers of bass picking, and reverbed clean guitar, reflecting the consciousness of Artemis and his confusion as to what is truth and what is perceived reality; "to shed some light on the darkness that was clouding my thoughts".

For those listeners who are not interested in the vocal treatment, there is even a version of the album that is purely instrumental. I would definitely miss the storyline unfolding though as I look forward to the voices; the acting is absolutely terrific. As soon as Sabel speaks the words, "I am Sabel? please return me to my apartment", I am absolutely hooked. The cold, harsh world depicted is reflected by aggressive guitars and howling synths. There are blazing lead guitar solos and some acoustic vibrations on tracks such as The Restless Man. The moments of quiet are echoed by haunting effects, such as the sparkling keys and booming bass tones on tracks such as Evasion, where the plot really takes off; "The dark eyes locked onto me with a flat stare typical of a synthetic." Once the album begins it becomes a compelling journey; designed for one sitting on headphones effectively drawing in a listener. The percussion enhances the tension and especially the basslines on The Streets in Darkness. The music feels like a slow drive through "the warm mist that came billowing out from inside". The protagonist Artimus experiences a kind of bildungsroman journey of discovery as he pursues lonely, disturbed Sabel and becomes part of her life; obsessed and impacted by her charismatic persona, the untouchable object of desire "that smothered and consumed me". Where it goes to from there I will leave up to the listener.

Overall I was delighted that Hibernal has continued to create superb theatrical musicscapes to feast on. Again, the album took me into a dystopia future of the imagination, though I did not consider the music or story to be quite as strong and powerful as "The Machine", that absolutely floored me. However "Replacements" is nonetheless an excellent experience, and once again captured my attention as another musical concept from the visionary mind of Mark Healy.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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