Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hexenhaus - Dejavoodoo (1997)

Suddenly, like a sea storm breaking on an uncaring pier of sharp rocks, the Hexenhaus machine had come to a halt after releasing the enticing third album Awakening in 1991. With such a promising direction and increase in musical dementia, one really hoped they would capitalize by releasing their magnum opus, but alas, like Babylon, thrash would crash and burn its way out of the public consciousness and this Swedish act, too, would disappear from the annals of potential...for a spell. This is mostly likely due to the fact that guitarist Mike Wead was busy in King Diamond in the early 90s, later joining Mercyful Fate as well in 1996, both of which were far better paying gigs in which to apply his skills, not to mention higher visibility with tours, interviews, and a massive installed fan base.

As it turns out, we were not to be ultimately let down by Wead or Hexenhaus, because there was one more full-length in the works, and come 1997, Dejavoodoo would arrive through Black Mark Productions, a better label than their previous Active for metal music, being the home of Quorthon and his family members and at this time working with a number of great Swede bands like Lake of Tears and Necrophobic. Impressively, despite the six year gap in releases, this album came packaged with the same lineup as Awakening, and a comparable style, hyper charged with musicianship, a more intense alternative to Wead's work with Diamond/Fate given a tech thrash injection that would send fans of Mekong Delta, Watchtower and Psychotic Waltz into fits of self-pleasure. The rhythm section returns for their most intense battery yet, especially drummer Billy St. John, and vocalist Lyon has also polished his approach, smoother and more controlled tones than the previous album.

But the riffs...the riffs clearly steal the show on this album, as we hear early on with the melodic, cycling aggression of "Reborn (at the Back of Beyond)", both mystical and progressive and a wonderful evolution of the band's early 90s aim. The increased production values of Dejavoodoo inc comparison to the prior output are quite necessary and instrumental to this album's success, each ripple of brilliant axe work captured in the clinical, paranoid amber "Phobia", a surge of perfectly sharpened thrash dementia which explores the fears of the listener as much as those of the lyrical narrator. 8 and a half minutes thrash by here, but you'll hardly notice, as the band's dynamics and pace are so well maintained. Another lengthy track follows, the 8 minutes of "Nocturnal Rites", which begins with a blissful clean guitar passage that morphs into subtle strikes of a synthesizer behind a wall of beautiful, slow cruising riffs that arch and collapse until Lyon arrives, a helmsman on a ship to insanity, emitting beautiful choruses above the heavy rain of this dark, nocturnal seascape.

"Dejavoodoo" itself is a wondrous little shred exercise, melodies glinting over a crunchy, hammering backbone and swells of cautionary keyboard, leading up to the music box intro that heralds "From the Cradle to the Grave", eclipsed by creepy, haunted synth lines and doom-like melodies, demented Lyon narrative reminiscent of lower-pitched Geoff Tate. This is the most experimentally structured of the album's tracks, but also one of the most gripping. The finale of the band's career, "Rise Babylon Rise", has its work cut out for it, but brings all the tools for the task, a roiling intro of synthesizers and muted guitars busting out into some of the most beautiful and climactic melodies of the entire Hexenhaus catalog. A great song to close with, and the only regret could be that there would be no more...

Yes, this was the final hour for the Swedish band, and let us hand them credit where it is deserved, for the band completed a career without ever once dipping below the precipice of greatness. I often find myself juggling between this record and the darker, simpler debut A Tribute to Insanity, which featured a much different vocalist and a more direct, ominous brand of brute, measured thrashing, and I am declaring here that it is Dejavoodoo which offers the band at their very finest. The quality of each track is quite good, the musicianship superb but balanced, and the mixing quality at its peak here. Coming out against a period where quality thrash, especially that of a progressive nature, was almost unheard of, it easily compensates for any investment of time and money you could pour into it, and then some.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (no more whistling in the dark)

No comments: