HERXHEIM – Incised Arrival (2020)REVIEW

Bones and tools define thousands of years of European history as striated refuse and cemeterial grime bears deep streaks (horizons), important historical evidentiary smears for the mud-troweling archaeological type. Obviate as it may be it is the bodies, pots, and various tools of early subsistence farmers during the European Neolithic period, which’d been flourishing in reasonable population around seven thousand years ago (5500–4500 B.C.E.), that has long told their story and eventual migratory patterns in all directions. Hold on, I’m going somewhere with this! Herxheim am Berg, a municipality in southwestern Germany, has only two claims to fame anyone’d concern themselves with today; The first is some small controversy about a church bell inscribed and dedicated to Hitler in 1934 which was eventually (ca. 2018) deemed a historic relic. The second, and certainly much more important cultural artifact is actually a massive archaeological site (and subsequent museum) bearing about 80 pits with an estimated ~1,500 incomplete skeletons. A mass grave? A sacrificial war pit? It is debatable, these remains date back to the aforementioned European Neolithic period notably bearing the marks of flesh cut from bone using sharp tools. For years this was posited as ritual (or necessary cleaning) as a result of sky burials, where buzzards dine on flesh and bones are buried — Physical evidence shows the bones, around one third of which were exhumed in veins of horrifying skeletal collapse, were crushed and chewed of their marrow. Their flesh was knifed off in a perimortem timeline, living or recently dead, all of these build into tell-tale signs of butchery and cannibalism taking place within the last fifty years of the site’s occupation. Murder, filleting flesh away, crushing bone, and eating marrow raw as it pours with blood is no act of religion or war but hunger and maniacal brutality. As it turns out it is the exact right atmospheric storytelling to preclude introduction of Texas-based primitive black/death metal solo project Herxheim, who’ve notched in bone and blood their debut full-length ‘Incised Arrival‘ — A brutal, tribalistic bone-club of 80’s extreme metal and harrowing early 90’s blackened doom atmospherics.

Musician and artist Patrick Brown became well known in underground extreme metal spheres worldwide as zELeVthaND a main curator in the (originally) San Francisco, California-based Howls of Ebb, an avant-garde and brutally atmospheric blackened death metal band remarkable for its forward-thinking approach to blurring and decentralizing black/death metal forms. The project would essentially relocate along with Brown (now known as Brungard) to Texas and reach its logical conclusion in fine form circa 2017 or so. The fellow in question had been involved in some extreme metal back in the early 90’s Missouri spheres, along with Alex Blume of Ares Kingdom in their likely teenaged black/death band Nepenthe, yet it comes as some surprise that Herxheim is a simpler, most primeval statement of early extreme metal attack compared to the dark wilderness of Howls of Ebb. His first demo recording (‘Cultivating Throne of Fur‘, 2019) recalls the grime of Mortuary Drape, the scowling dirges of Samael‘s pre-’92 developments, and all manner of experimental evil inspired by Hellhammer beyond 1983 or so: Poison, Goatlord, Necromantia, Root and their ilk are channeled in spirit but not necessarily in a literal sense. Auld grime and barbarism serves the eruptions of rotten decay found on the demo, sure, but ‘Incised Arrival’ pushes into something more effectively realized both in haunting atmospheric presence and rasping, blood-drunk battery.

Guitar and distorted bass are one screaming blade of distortion across the moonlit sky here, a buzzing swarm of death accompanied by choral synth. Consider it a modern analogue to what Christ Agony, Barathrum or early Varathron were doing in their earliest forms — The entirety of the composition still feels quite ‘heavy metal’ while creating a thickly haunted atmosphere of horror and primal aggression. Trills, drum rolls, slow-flung blasts and lunging riffs aim for swinging gutter collapse with pieces so heavy they’d crawl beneath the vocals and suffocate victims with mud and muscular reap. These are low and filth-ridden tunes written to expose the raw yellow and red-streaked bones of the human condition, carrying a narrative Brungard describes as “mephistic fables” which should read as “faustian, but more savage“, more or less. Without getting too lost in the murky atmosphere the artist is known for creating it is worth mentioning that as a lyricist dealing in obscure language and ‘evil’ atmospheric scene Brungard has always brought a thoughtful hand to his work, a voice that is intelligent and direct, notably effective for easily readable visualization that is obscure enough to represent primitive extreme metal in this case. At a glance lyrics like those of “Branded By Pentagram” could’ve been written by Blood Feast circa ’89 yet in the context of the song, which is a clear standout piece, the image becomes quickly apparent; Even if the listener’s imagination is lax, the outline of events is yet perceived and scene is set in every case.

“Warrior Master Lore” is the one piece I’d vaguely liken to Howls of Ebb for the sake of its many rhythmic changes but I don’t hear anything beyond the artist’s general signature rhythmic sensibility that’d warrant any direction comparison to past work. Around the 2:45 minute mark of the song the rip of distortion and riff’s catchy grind make for one of the more memorable ideas on an album that aims for atmosphere, heaviness, and less than subtle rhythmic cleverness rather than outright catchiness. The sensation is not unlike an extended session with the first Cianide record or Barathrum‘s ‘Eerie’ where it appears to go on much longer than it does and pieces begin to blur together in a satisfyingly muddy hex. If you’ve no great appreciation for bare and ‘live in studio’ feeling recordings, raunchy demo-era 80’s death metal, black/doom metal origins beyond Hellhammer across Europe in the early 90’s, and the simple punch of a twisted extreme metal riff I don’t know if there is anything on ‘Incised Arrival’ for you. Though I didn’t find the album particularly memorable the spectacle, sharp lyricism, atmospheric keyboard/synth work, and textural rhythm tones all hit their mark for my own taste enough to give a moderately high recommendation of this first Herxheim album.

Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Incised Arrival
LABEL(S):Nuclear War Now! Productions [Vinyl, Digital],
I, Voidhanger Records [CD]
RELEASE DATE:July 17th [CD], July 30th [Vinyl]
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [Digital]
GENRES:Blackened Doom Metal,
Black/Death Metal

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