Review Summary: Welcome to Sheol. The cost of entry is steep, but it is worth the price.
French avant-garde metal band Hypno5e has always required a bit of effort to fully appreciate. Their blend of djent, prog, post metal, ambience, and Floyd-ish mellow sections has never been conducive to an easy listening experience; and the required effort has only increased with time. With each release they’ve slowly phased out traditional metal elements in the pursuit of a more abstract and artistic
direction. The structures became more meandering, the melodies less melodic, the refrains fewer, and the riffs more atonal. This formula peaked with the release of Shores of the Abstract Line
. It was this album that blended the traditional and artistic in the most equal of measures. A Distant (Dark) Source
essentially remained within the same musical realm, but it focused less on memorability and even more on sprawling soundscapes. With the two previous albums treading the same musical waters, the question is whether Hypno5e would be content to stick with the same (winning) formula for a third time or if they would feel the itch of progression once more.
After nearly two months with Sheol
, it is clear Hypno5e felt the itch of progression while being cognizant enough to retain the basic foundation established on Shores of the Abstract Line
. What this means is despite Sheol
being the most experimental and abstract of the band’s career, it still shares more than a passing semblance to the previous few albums. Sheol
is an album where the crushing djent of songs such as “Sheol – Part II – Lands of Haze” can be jarringly interrupted by poets reading excerpts of their work over soothing clean guitar melodies and strings played by a trio of guest musicians. It’s an album where songs such as “Lava from the Sky” can introduce a sense of unease and tension from the most unlikely of places; in this case with its use of ritardando and accelerando from both the rim-clicking of the drums and an atonal guitar riff before exploding into a dissonant, rhythmic, crescendo. An album where vocalist Emmanuel Jessua utilizes harmonized clean singing and a raspy shout in French, English, and occasionally even Castilian Spanish. Essentially, the foundation of ambient layers, warm acoustic interludes, angular modern riffs, and progressive post metal is still intact, but these elements are rarely delivered in any kind of linear or predictable way… and that can be both a positive and negative throughout the album.
If there is a problem with Sheol
it is one of potential. This far into Hypno5e’s career, it feels as though each progression comes with some regression, as well. From a personal perspective, it feels as though they should still be utilizing some of the lost elements that made previous albums (relatively) more digestible and memorable. Previously, there was often a recurring motif or strong melodic section that augmented the band’s experimental tendencies. At the very least, each track felt like a cohesive trip; there was (almost) always a clear progression from the lulling ambience to the crushing crescendos – or at least a sense of forward movement. Sheol
lacks any of this in any meaningful amount. Perhaps even more exasperating, despite an increased use of vocal harmonies on Sheol
, it still feels like the band spend very little time crafting the mellower sections. Alba – Les Hombres Errantes
was entirely acoustic with clean singing throughout. It proved the band were capable of doing more with the quiet side of their sound than they had been doing up to that point. Unfortunately, none of that softer-side creativity made it into A Distant (Dark) Source
, and it doesn’t make it into Sheol
Outside looking in, Sheol
is absolutely Hypno5e’s most experimental and abstract release, but with that comes a steep price of admission. It shouldn’t be a surprise if the first handful of listens all end the same way; with no solid recollection of what Sheol
was about, but with a lingering certainty that it was compelling and worth another listen. With repetition, Sheol
will slowly morph into the endearing album early listens foreshadowed. If there is anything negative worth highlighting, it’s that sometimes it’s tough to keep up with Hypno5e’s forward momentum when they are perfectly content to drop elements that worked in the past while, at the same time, devoting very little time to progressing the softer side of their sound. Despite these minor complaints, Sheol
is clearly another confident step forward for Hypno5e’s sound (even if it comes at the expense of their past) that keeps their long-running formula intact while moving in an ever more abstract direction.