HALLUXVALGUS – Reflections of Distant Dreams (2021)REVIEW

The dying sun will glow on you without burning, as it has done today. The wind will be soft and mellow and your hilltop will tremble. As you reach the end of your dance you will look at the sun, for you will never see it again in waking or in dreaming, and then your death will point to the south. To the vastness.” Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan

For the last decade and a half the obsession within classicist death metal circles has involved returning to a make-believe source, an imagined apparition of invention where death metal spawned as a curious idea glommed between anxietous speed and teenaged ambition, wherein new practitioners find their angle off of those earliest actors without regard to the prior history of extreme metal. Just as author Carlos Castaneda was technically a fraud within the field of ethnography who can be appreciated today as an inventive anthropology student writing inspired fiction, so do a lot of ‘new old school’ death metal bands present works of absolutely inspired death metal that is fictitiously related to an area of history they’ve hardly studied. The perspective is keen, the work is immaculate in many cases and the angles into myriad sub-genre are a brilliant pastime yet the spirit of classic death metal is in self expression, not plagiaristic worship from acolytes of trend alone. The bands that stand out most in mind today have pushed beyond acting and dressing the part unto some manner of personal craft that uses the simple thrashing brutality of late 80’s death metal to best express their worldview. The mental traversal of all variables involving riffcraft must approach taste with ease rather than puzzled, downtuned eyebrow raising. Named for uh, bunions, and doing practically nothing for the sake of fitting in with the trend-seeker crowded scenes of today Puerto Montt, Chile based death metal trio Halluxvalgus arrive upon their debut full-length blurring the faces of the old gods through permutations within, and far beyond, classic rhythms. ‘Reflections of Distant Dreams‘ is familiar in tonality, picking and choosing ideals from various decades of ‘old school’ triumph resulting in a work like-yet-unlike most anything else within their realm — An album that explores what they’ve described as “surrealistic terror” from an indigenous perspective, a cryptic meaning that wills itself into sense as the record grinds its way through ten engaging death metal trips.

Formed in 2013 and eventually splitting off into several forward-thinking and/or classicist projects, having replaced all but guitarist/bassist Horrorhammer by 2020, it is safe to say the vision of this band is largely his to mold how he sees fit. Since I’ve no access to their 2016 demo tape and the ‘Death Will Prevail‘ EP from 2018 shares a handful of the same songs reworked for this full-length, a ride through Halluxvalgus‘ discography doesn’t enlighten without some context for the early 2010’s impetus of bands like Morbus Chron, Chapel of Disease and Necrovation inspiring a certain sect of the underground looking to pull back to the most classic forms of death metal before each would become interrupted via their own enthusiastic creativity. The psychedelic aspects of records like ‘Soulside Journey’ and ‘Mental Funeral’ were at the heart of these experimental times yet the popularity of In Solitude and Ghost oddly crossed over in formation of artists like Tribulation who were arguably originally part of a similar pool of traditional death metal minded folks. Although they tend towards a ‘Sleepers in the Rift‘ sort of ethos by dmuscle memory, there is no arguing Halluxvalgus have long soaked up those psychedelic and progressive elements of what came beyond, they’ve just never left behind the raw late 80’s thrashing death metal kick.

Consider much of what Halluxvalgus do the garage-borne death metal equivalent of Morbus Chron to start as we dive into the wheeling heavy metal jogs and King Crimsonian spread of “Ghastly Fascination”, which still maintains its fucked and raw post-‘Severed Survival’ arena of early Swedish death metal whilst sustaining a moderate rock beat much of the time. From there “Murderous Instinct” gives us a vital common ground to roll within, showcasing the exaggerated forms of bands like Death Breath as a key influence yet ending the song with a lead driven prog-rock whip that is far more ‘The Formulas of Death’ in spirit (see also: “Senseless Vanity”.) From that point we’re served several pieces that toy with this use of catchy almost post-punkish guitar leads atop what I’d consider a generationally upheld vision of Autopsy beats diverted into song structures that go rock instead of crust by default. “Hot Puke” nearly reaches the sophisticated burl of Ghastly‘s ‘Carrion of Time’ as it slides into doomed and nigh Finnish feeling breaks yet Halluxvalgus make a point of moving past their best ideas without discretion, ready to thrash on “Morbid Ways” and taking the record in just as many if not more erratic directions on Side B. Halfway through the album the scope of influences upon this fairly young band are impressive, classicist but also evocative of what I’d describe as “modern yet organic” death metal ideals.

A brief but inspired piece to kick off Side B, “From Echoes of a Deadly Chest” does not just touch upon deathrock it directly performs it, finding their own twisted version of this sound which reads a bit more like an occult black/death experiment to start, something off of BlackSeed Productions roster. This is not only a surprising moment that characterizes the album in memory but it reeks of a risk worth taking, especially for a big transitional moment that might have gone terribly awry. Things were getting a bit dry and the absolute right thing to do for the full listen was give it some truly surreal, impossible to predict event right at the heart of the experience. From there we are back to the grind until “Disturbed Corpse” tugs at a different sort of goth angle with a break into what I’d describe as early gothic death/doom metal sections. The song itself reads as a progressive death metal piece moving between ‘Leprosy’ and ‘Slowly We Rot’ level riffs before presenting a variety of eclectic moods, still returning to the core attack of the album with its circa 1989 death metal punch but taking a wild detour that distracts from what are still essentially basic death metal rhythmic actions. The choice to insert “Crawling are the Dead” in between these two pieces isn’t great, separating what would have been a remarkable pairing to start this second half. For what its worth I’d wanted them to focus on songs like “Disturbed Corpse” much more in hindsight after each listen. Exciting as some of these developments are they’re suddenly pale experiments compared to the final two pieces on the album which appear to sum up the experience with and ambitiously arranged finale. The conclusion of “Internal Cryptic Gathering” is vital to the rounding of all rough edges they’d wish to buff out as well as a demanding piece that necessitates other rough edges, such as the raw-throated crackle of the vocals, cannot be avoided.

At this point Halluxvalgus are done making their case for a unique take on this sound and finally present the hypothetical bigger achievement unto finest results. Getting there takes about 35 minutes and the album is a bit too long at ~fifty but the experience ends in the midst of making great sense both as a debut and a long-in-process congealing of ideals. I see the taste level and the ideals well infused into the final product and appreciate this relatable yet avant-garde feeling exuded, approachably classic in its extreme metal movement yet irascibly on a number of tangents otherwise. The experience more or less conveys the suggested refractive analysis of dreams as they are extracted as surrealistic horrors yet entirely within the confines of ‘old school’ death metal aesthetics. A fairly high standard is met yet they have a lot of room to grow beyond this fine first major statement, it will please a vital niche but won’t distort the future just yet. As such, I’ve given this one a moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (75/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Reflections of Distant Dreams
LABEL(S):Burning Coffin Records [Cassette]
Ex Nihilo [CD]
RELEASE DATE:April 29th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Death Metal

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