Sutekh Hexen expose a physical presence in their music that slashes straight through the guts of their contemporaries. Their combination of lo-fi black metal intertwined with inauspicious ambient chicanery riddled its way through both of the startlingly boundless and commanding albums they released last year. On the back of three brilliant EPs and a blossoming relationship between band members Scott Miller and Kevin Gan Yuen, Larvae tore a path into the scene by laying waste to expectation and stimulating an array of critical acclaim before its sinister follow-up, which in turn carved a fresh and innovative take on raw metal with a tenacious fascination for the occult. The California band’s disposition with the supernatural lies at the very cornerstone of their recordings, which emerges thematically on Behind The Throne and through their expulsion of personal torment on tracks such as “La Det Bli Lys.” Both albums saw the duo working with Lee Camfield, who has seemingly become a permanent fixture in the lineup, as they bound from two exceptional full-length releases to a collaboration with Andrew Liles, who on Breed In Me The Darkness has remixed a batch of fresh cuts from the Hexen repertoire.
An electronic musician with the an incredibly eccentric bent, Liles’ involvement makes for an obscure merger from the outset. A measly scroll through his website provides an indication as to the man’s deviant persuasions; a wide-mouthed woman fellating her own torso; an exasperated young temptress on the receiving end of a money shot, the latter image being up for grabs on a novelty coffee mug that comes with free audio download instructions. Liles’ eccentricity, however, is matched only by his insatiable prolificacy, which has allowed him to contribute extensively on projects with Current 93 and Nurse With Wound while simultaneously dispatching a steady flow of solo releases since the mid 80s. With a digital library of mostly dark ambient and experimental material, his choice to participate with the San Francisco trio in providing an alternate angle to their traumatic traits comes as a curious choice — although his CV exemplifies the efforts of a gifted, albeit rather quirky musician, there pertains an air of mystique on earlier recordings such as The Dying Submariner and Ouarda (The Subtle Art of Phyllorhodomancy) that is desperately haunting. Despite the differences in style between the albums, these past offerings also embody the demanding aspects of Hexen’s emerging canon, which allows for a seductive backdrop to the perplexing music at hand.
In this instance, collective deftness alludes to a haunted collusion of minds that nurtures the mastery and rigorousness of both an artist who has spent the last 20-plus years making compulsive electronic soundscapes and a deeply penetrating experimental outfit who have struck an immediate reputation for creating accomplished and pungent music. The combined outcome compiles four tracks; two gushing slices from Hexen, which are subsequently mangled by Liles’ darkened foraging. It results in 45 minutes of bleak, compromising despair that not only lingers on the quite beautiful interplay between a coy electronics dab-hand and boundless occult enthusiasm, but also pierces that veneer of rugged experimentation by exposing a shoddy and disregarded ambivalence both artists leave sagging behind them.
The album opens with Liles’ mix of “We Once Walked Upon These Coals,” which amplifies the somatic force of the ambient sections in Hexen’s production; that their recordings can be felt physically during playback is what makes the group so outstanding. On this occasion, lower-end piano bass strings are stabbed up by high-frequency pitches; a chilling synth crawls underneath forbidding creaks congealed with scraping, burning, and hushed voices before distant screams start to pour out of nowhere. The delivery revolves around conjuring atmosphere, setting the scene for a mood dismal and unprecedented, which is why the deep synth works so well alongside the high-register piano keys that complement occasional screech samples and menacing tumult. However, the distant cries suddenly give way to ropey and fumbling guitar chords, which are churned out around a drum pattern of crippling tedium. The effect is devastating, for it completely fractures any impression of character and replaces it with a dollop of beefy, fatheaded riffage. The simplistic and trivial breakdown shatters the illusion so potently that it becomes difficult to engage with the remaining tracks at all. It’s a shame too, because the guitars eventually subside and further somber roiling ensues, though a foul shade of disappointment has been left in its wake.
The following Hexen pieces are powerful, but they don’t quite cut it in comparison to what the group birthed on their most recent albums. Whereas the most emotive and meditative number “Selling Light to Lesser Gods” hurls fiery, shredding, and sandblasted vocal pillage that rips itself apart all over the track’s own smattering trajectory, it’s the proceeding remix version that embodies the most intricately crafted segment on the album. Organ keys simmer and rise against choral dirges that create an innate sense of friction, which is unparalleled elsewhere on the record; suspense is built using white noise that gently creeps in before unloading itself as a punishing body of static hiss, drenching the organs that continue to twist beyond it. These moments are indubitably intense, a few minutes that are well worth treasuring, for they soon fall into disarray when someone decides to throw a tantrum: an assortment of objects are smashed up like unwanted porcelain at a broken crockery stall, where cracked and stained tea plates are shattered for a few pence a hit. Once again, any degree of remaining tension seeps away along with the misconceived darkness it purports to; there is nothing intriguing or even interesting about the destruction of kitchen paraphernalia, at least in this context, or the mawkish shrieks that follow. The clumsiness of the score wrecks the aura as opposed to adding value to it, making for a cumbersome blunder and a disdainful metaphor for the entire project.
Not a shred of doubt remains that the collaborators knew what they were getting into here. Hexen express such a serious and determined air within their work, producing some marvelous abstractions as a consequence of their willingness to explore offbeat avenues. Liles, it has to be said, has more of a gimmicky vibe to his discography, though he is still an incredible artist when it comes to assembling gloomy and harrowing electronic scores. Together, though, they have created a reckless shamble, a tiresome and weary co-conspiracy that merely hints at possibilities that were no doubt discussed in bringing the project together. But that’s just it: the collective attributes here are only hinted at before they are left to rot somewhere out back, with a tacky substitute formula residing in place of what could have been.