HAIL CONJURER – Earth Penetration (2022)REVIEW

Despite a prolific release schedule, an entirely niche ethos far away away from populism, and attention split between several bands there appears to be no bottleneck of exploratory interest on the horizon for instinctive primitivist black metal agent Hail Conjurer, a solo gig from Finnish musician Harri Kuokkanen which has manifested at least one or more releases per year since forming in 2017. This phenomenon can be explained in relatively plain terms, for once: Musical intuition and some degree of improvisation are expressed with feeling and presence emphasized, real acts with surrealistic results which speak to the nature of the individual unbound. In delivering the intended primordial, natural spiritual awareness (a “witness-consciousness”, if you will) the artist creates a different mood, a vibe within each album well-centered by introspection and interconnectedness alike. ‘Earth Penetration‘ is arguably his most interconnected, readable release to date and should very well provide appreciable atmospheric contrast to the harsh and chaotically entrenched realms of his more recent works.

Somewhere in between experimental doom metal group Horse Latitudes easing up, his gig in Ride For Revenge enriching the possibilities of expression and joining infamous Hooded Menace as vocalist this Helsinki-based fellowe decided to create honest and self-representative black metal which placed emphasis on emergent ideas, mental preparedness, and what seemed to be capturing the moment where an idea was most vital rather than exhausting it ’til the perfect take. Of course this has meant you’re either all-in on partaking in the results of what is essentially experimental, punkish, occasionally doomed and atmospheric or you’ll have to pick and choose what suits your taste within Hail Conjurer‘s already vast discography. I’d normally seek precedence for the sonic aptitudes, stylistic developments, and tonal exploration found on ‘Earth Penetration‘ but in the case study of Kuokkanen we find the artist naturally avoiding additive baggage and using different sounds, production values, or instrumental focus for each record.

Real, yet entirely unreal. — For those already familiar with Hail Conjurer, you’ll find some light shades of the bleakest synth-blackened stomp of ‘Dreams of Serpent‘ (2017) and a few darker pockets of the likewise creep-synth juiced intensity found on ‘Erotic Hell‘ (2018) but these are distant dreams at this point and this latest record takes on a more doomed, kosmiche analog/guitar synth buzzing groan as its major point of focus. If seeking a direct continuation of the clobbered, walled-up harshness of ‘Sinister‘ (2021) or the tension-addled jangling gloom and austerity of ‘Hail & Fire‘ (2021) this ain’t it in either case, though you will likely enjoy this record in principle if you lean towards the latter. What ‘Earth Penetration‘ focuses most up front is use of droning guitars and eerie synth/keyboards to set an unsettling scene by way of an often distorted or analog presence to match the decayed but generally well-defined instrumentation available. In this sense the artist has lent a bit of (early) Barathrum-esque black/doom metal glow to their buzzing, weirding emanations. A harsh and growling entity emerges, spiking up in the midst of unreal and fairly unique sounds, dissonant noise that rings in curious levitation as the album introduces its major dilemma (“The Sin and the Sweat”, “Aghast”).

Though this development of Hail Conjurer‘s sound feels entirely natural, a new sound and an expectedly intense shade of their greater essence, it manages to ride the fence between recognizable musical personality and a surprisingly different node. Though the artist is exploring harsh but contained noise as voicing for his ideas for much of the album it never reads as plain or dry nox, though the first three pieces certainly belong to a similar thread of almost atmospheric sludge sized dreariness, owing more to the best of Neurosis and Beherit than any modern raw black metal derivation. As we reach “Come Alive” this primitive lifeform, sounding as if it were a battalion’s war drum call sourced from a desert crater on an unknown moon, it’d be fair to first identify the modus of the artist creating simple and shambling dread without overthinking as miraculously evocative nonsense. I mean this in the best way, though, “nonsense” in the sense that it didn’t necessarily mean anything we listeners should or will understand as it manifested, whatever spiritual purpose a piece like this intends it is entirely personal to Hail Conjurer and the listener can only be left with some appreciation for the surreal effect of the piece and the conviction of the artist in exploration. Is it “art metal”, yes, but only with regard to the purity (or personal sanctity) of the act rather than within analysis of the result.

Where I begin to lose interest is when the experiment drives itself too far off the cliffs of two extremes. The first side of this coin, wherein the abrasive beat-carnage of the title track disrupts the very electrical signal of the flesh, tends to be where I go a bit deaf to the artist’s focus. Otherwise the somewhat more ambient and largely instrumental, coldest funereal pieces such as “Blood On the Stone” and the droning lapse of “Winter Death” leave my thoughts wandering away from the full listen. The full listen sells itself in the first three songs and only a couple of the pieces beyond that point reprise that initial thread in mutation, leaving a complete thought on the table overall but in diminishing statement beyond the peak concoction of “Come Alive”. Beyond this thought in attempt of vaguest summation it is just as important to appreciate that what Hail Conjurer is able to convey within counter-cultural sketches most need full and elaborate productions to achieve, the case for ‘Earth Penetration‘ becomes a matter of both ear-catching abstraction and a bit of additional perspective — “the power of one” armed with ingenuity and confident instinct outclassing many in a personal, obscure way leaves me hugely impressed. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Earth Penetration
LABEL(S):Signal Rex,
Bestial Burst
RELEASE DATE:September 23rd, 2022

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