Of marble, ancient cedar and limitless golden polish the great palace at the heart of Kêr Is glistened as if the civilization ruled over therein were a jeweled reef, pulled directly from the sea. As with all legends of mythical empires, their extravagance and excess would be punished by the follies of human nature be it the will of ‘Gods’ or punishment for decadence. Unnatural isolation, a hotbed of sin, and a promiscuous drunken daughter would be enough to swallow the city back unto the mari-morgans leaving a pious king, escaping on his water-treading horse, convinced to cast his “demonic” princess into the drink by command of the ‘Gods’. This mythological meld of Breton underworld mythos with some semblance of Christianity’s fall of Sodom and Gomorrah is no mistake; The severity of the tale, where one woman’s lust destroys an entire civilization, is perhaps emphasized to belabor the scare tactic ethic of foulest Christian cultural re-appropriation. Auld Christian fables clash with imaginative pagan realms in Brittany’s (western France) eldest sustained traditional folklore, shoehorning an oddly-fitted dualism into ancient holistic worldview that’d been too rooted as tradition in the proud people’s identity to ever erase. From this inspired lore, and with the inspirational mastery of all realms of heavy metal, great tales and grand heavy metal epics are spun via the hands of Rennes, France ‘epic’ speed/thrash metal quartet Hexecutor on their second full-length album ‘Beyond any Human Conception of Knowledge…’, a feat that commands with the willful strokes and jeweled excess spirit of true heavy metal.
Attack, attack, attack er, L’Attaque des Titans! Is all one can hope to master when creating traditional speed metal influenced by the mastery of the craft achieved between 1978 and 1985. We know well enough from decades of watching bands fumble this, like does not create like, and instead the best speed/thrash metal made moderne is sourced via 70’s heavy metal instrumental skill kicked up to ’82 hardcore punk speed, given its charm and edge via the nuclear fear of the coming mid-80’s. The way around the mountain? For a band like Hexecutor it is simply tasteful sound design paired with well chosen yet myriad influences that span all classic eras of thrash-influenced music. None could suggest Hexecutor‘ve ever sounded modern, even their most vicious moments are about as timely as a Wolf Spider album, yet their command of all things speed metal could only have been accomplished with 20/20 hindsight, which I must argue they’ve achieved here on ‘Beyond and Human Conception of Knowledge…’. What’ve they been doing since 2011, then? Killing it and kicking it old school! Their first official EP (‘Hangmen Of Roazhon‘, 2014) was a breakthrough in terms of self-discovery, finding the right balance of ferocity and technique they could build an album from. This is the release I’d discovered the band with via Dying Victims Productions‘ 12″ reissue circa 2018 so, the discovery of their debut full-length (‘Poison, Lust and Damnation‘) from two years prior came as a shock. Think of that album as on par with the best of Deathhammer, Hellish Crossfire and Division Speed where a mastery of Teutonic thrash metal forms harnesses the full screeching n’ pinched riffing of Destruction‘s first EP and (a personal all-time favorite) ‘Infernal Overkill’. Evil thrash with brilliant technique and an endless stream of lucid and fiery riffing represents such an apex predator event I’m sure most bands would have to start back at the drawing board, it was a goal met and a violence to behold in terms of traditional speed metal’s true amplification. Where to next? Une odyssée.
This second album holds fast their classic speed/thrash buzzing tone and gives a bit more body and bass, introducing the album with elements of early (pre-1988) Destruction and pure ’83 thrash metal records in tact and swinging like a mead-filled horn in hand of a bard with a number of Breton epics to share. “Buried Alive With Her White Silk Dress” is not just a simple crossing of the spirited early Maiden-jogging heavy/speed of ADX and Germanic witching thrash but it tells the tale of the White Lady who haunts the Château de Trécesson introducing the album with one of eight evocative local folktales, some actual history and others of ‘Gods’ and men. Already my brain for provenance and folklore is spilling from my ears yet, as you’ll soon find, the album is yet gilded to the point of excess with riffs of cross-generational influence and origin, moulded by the hands of Hexecutor. Dagger-sharp and heavy metal to the bone as it is, this is a remarkably mature speed metal record that overflows with the right sort of energy. How they’ve managed to keep things wriggling along without dissolving into riff salad is beyond me. Upon closer inspection much of the existing structural ideals of ‘Poison, Lust and Damnation’ are here, with four and a half minute speed metal songs set next to an equal number of 7-8 minute epics, it is what they’ve done with that running order and their compositions that make this follow-up a markedly more dynamic experience. So, I don’t mean to glance past the shot-in-the-arm that is “Ker Ys”, which is affectionately reference in my opening paragraph but there is far too much to pull from this album without making a full days work of it.
“Eternal Impenitence” we get the first panoramic view of this Witching Hour-esque ‘epic’ side of the band, suggested as one part 80’s Bathory and another Manowar (so, Merciless‘ ‘Unbound’?) via blackened thrash delivered as a plodding melodious tarantella, gracing the ear with a circular gait of forms rather than a ruthlessly dumb blood-ripper. About ~1.5 minutes into “Tiger of the Seven Seas” you’ve had to have pulled that 400€ replica sword off your wall and started swinging it by virtue of the classic Franco-German speed metal attack ’til the ‘La Terreur‘-esque jig at ~3:40 minutes has you considering a career in speed/folk metal as the heavy rock solo screams above it. At this halfway point one could reflect pre-Side B there are few bands pulling this sort of feat off today, perhaps the aforementioned Witching Hour on some level and maybe Diabolic Oath but I would argue Hexecutor bring even more of their own character into the equally grand (and even longer) second half wherein my notes include “Running Wild circa ’89” for the sea shanty twist of “Belzebuth’s Apocryphal Mark” and some manner of celtic knots drawn on my desk as instrumental goliath “Brecheliant” and its briefly flute-adorned verdant picturing of the mythic enchanted forest it is named for (Forêt de Brocéliande) comes to life within its stunning middle section. This do get a bit exhausted and cheeky (see: the end of “Danse Macabre”, ugh) as we kick towards the end but the damage is done on my end, never imagining I’d find a damned speed/thrash metal album to be such an enchanted high fantasy feat beyond 1986.
Enchanting, fantastical, gloriously French, “epic”, before you start to get the impression that this isn’t just a heavy speed/thrash metal album that pushes the limits of narrative and keen 80’s heavy metal melody, I’ll pull out. Among the best of September’s very packed release schedule this year you’d not be blamed for missing out on this latest Hexecutor album for the true metal niche it inhabits yet I have to insist its unique value and inspired all around conception and performance. The packaging is no less impressive with this glow-lit piece from ex-Skelethal member Jon Whiplash who’d also done the most recent Mortal Scepter cover. Keen gear for a damned special album worth digging on. A very high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Beyond an Human Conception of Knowledge…|
|LABEL(S):||Dying Victims Productions|
|RELEASE DATE:||September 25th, 2020|
|BUY & LISTEN:||Bandcamp [All Formats]|
Blackened Epic Speed Metal
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