The howling verve of 70’s rock plumbed heavy metal band Hessian is largely the vision of Portland, Maine musician Angus McFarland whose wild Phil Lynott-on-quaaludes vocal style provides just enough curiosity for closer listening. If you’re already familiar with the band’s debut full-length ‘Bachelor of Dark Arts’ (2014), forget about the damn thing because the whole line-up beyond McFarland was wiped and replaced with a rag-tag crew of Maine’s most ghoulish atmoblack creeps and leather vest wearing hired guns circa 2016-ish. This means those dual vocals from the first album are likewise gone, giving McFarland center stage where he sorta belonged in the first place as the melodic device and vocal peacock. ‘Mercenary Retrograde’ is interesting for it’s eccentric performances and gnarly occult rock swagger but might venture too far from tradition for metal’s grouchiest stone-faced fundamentalists.
From the get-go Hessian give major Sir Lord Baltimore vibes but as if John Garner had some interest in post-punk and peak 80’s Thin Lizzy. The boppin’ tones of “Skull Ring” eventually give way to a barroom brawl ah via Slough Feg on “Legpuller” and we’re right back in a pile of furry strange on the album’s most energetic romp “Dude Messiah”. Those three tracks really sum up the clever whack that McFarland brings with Hessian; A mutant hard rock and heavy metal hybrid with an unusual charisma, the sort of sonic personality similar bands often lack. Beyond that freakish, not-so-serious appeal there is some greater melding between energetic performances, catchy songs, and oddly memorable studio trickery.
‘Mercenary Retrograde’ isn’t an album of huge riffs or fancy, inspirational guitar solos but rather one of hooks and punchy rock rhythms. In this sense the experience is not easy to nail down. Hessian bring an artfully splattered hit of Lisa Frank-looking neon lit 80’s heavy rock diarrhea and while it sounds like a jank-fest at first listen ‘Mercenary Retrograde’ quickly digs it’s hooks in and gets weird. The mix of uptempo swinging Clutch-like grooves and a couple of darker, doom-ish tracks (“I Wish I Was Dead”, “The Viper”) make for a brisk listen that really throbs at it’s own sort of pulse. The production helps quite a bit with Michael Pearce‘s big honking bass tone providing considerable push beneath McFarland‘s guitar work. Subtle effects, be it minor reverb or blurry chorus, give just enough of a heavy psych hint that you can feel the 70’s rock influences without smelling them.
Once I’d let Hessian rub it’s grooves deeper under my skin their second album was a great time. McFarland has learned a lot between records and sourced goons that compliment this newer, bigger, more inspired vision on ‘Mercenary Retrograde’. Surreal, janky, and nearly goofy in it’s first impression I think this one will be a grower for many folks but should ultimately be a good fit for folks who have some shared interest in retro-80’s metal, occult hard rock, and all of the weird shit in between. For preview I think the best introduction to this album would involved the opener “I Wish I Was Dead”, the boppin’ “Dude Messiah” and early Deep Purple grind of “Manos Hands of Fate”.
From golden to lead. 3.75/5.0
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