Review Summary: “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.”
Balancing musical ambition with listener connectivity is the finest of tightropes to walk, and is largely dependent on the listener themselves. In progressive metal, by definition a genre shaped by artist ambition, this tightrope is possibly among the finest in music. Some prefer to push musical conventions as far as they will go using a whole menagerie of devices, ranging from utilising the most bizarre time signatures to bringing in the most unlikely of outside genres as influences (polka immediately springs to mind, referring to a certain spearhead of this movement); the people alienated by this are the ones appreciating the music as an exercise, but find very little to 'feel' from it. Similarly, those that work towards a more conventionally friendly ethos find themselves attracting those wanting a more emotional attachment to their music, but leaving the ones wanting more experimentation feeling a bit cheated. Obviously the argument presents itself that you can't please everyone, or even that you shouldn't; that being said, The Hirsch Effekt's sophomore album, 'Holon: Anamnesis' is possibly one of the most convincing arguments that it's possible to achieve both at once.
Opening with 'Anamnesis', the listener is immediately confronted with their first 'peculiarity'. An oddly timed piece consisting of pizzicato strings, cello strikes and flitting viola, it highlights one of the album's most intriguing features: a noticeable classical influence. This doesn't rear its head again until the 4th track, 'Agitation', but onwards from that the usage of strings, brass and choral elements crops up again and again, sometimes for an almost empyrean effect (see the first half of 'Ligaphob'), other times an altogether more sombre feel (the last couple of minutes of aggressive prog-heaven 'Mara'). It's not simply classical instruments that The Hirsch Effekt flirt with throughout the 63 minute running length – guiros and a distinctly Latin sway pepper the mid-section of 'Limerent' evoking heavy images of The Mars Volta, and album closer 'Datorie' features, alongside the string section and piano an electronic trip-hop beat which, despite building to a fever pitch, brings things to a somewhat subdued climax after all the fun and games.
Despite this penchant for instrumental variety, The Hirsch Effekt are, at its core, a 3-piece band consisting of a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist, the latter of the two also sharing vocal duties. Therefore, it comes as no massive shock to find that, for the most part, Holon: Anamnesis is built around using these elements – which they do so with a wondrous mixture of fast-paced progressive post-hardcore (much in the same vein as Protest the Hero), slow, sludge-tinged riffs and arpeggiated vocal-led sections. It's through this mixture of influences that they're able to maintain a grounded, sometimes even catchy character half of the time, and a deranged, unfollowable barrage for the other. This is exacerbated further by the melting pot of vocal styles, ranging from a mid-range, undeniably Teutonic clean to indecipherable lows and manic rasps – not to the same extent as, say, SikTh, but distinctive and not unpleasant in any way. Occasionally they let their prog tendencies get the better of them, such as in the aforementioned Mara which is overlong and meandering to the point of slight loss of interest, but for the most part they succeed in using the potent mixture of peculiarity, familiarity and dynamics to a genuinely endearing outcome.
The late Maya Angelou once said “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.” Whether or not The Hirsch Effekt were ambitious or wise in making Holon: Anamnesis is entirely down to the listener's perception, but it's definitely arguable that they succeeded in being both here – and even if they don't satisfy everybody's desires, they put a damn good shift in trying to do so.