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When describing the sound of early/first-wave/pre-’90s black metal, as well as its distillation in scenes like the Mediterranean and the Central/East European, one of the adjectives that tend to be used is occult. This implies two meanings, a relative (this music is more occult than the other (Scandinavian/2nd wave) black metal) and an absolute one (this music is inherently occult). Sometimes, when I catch myself thinking of music and lyrics/themes as two separate units or modular parts, I try to imagine how would Worship Him or Passage to Arcturo sound with social or psychological lyrics. Every time, this task proves to be impossible – the occult spirit is irrevocably embedded in both the music and lyrics.
I do not have the lyrics of Incised Arrival, Herxheim’s debut full-length, but judging from the song titles and the album cover, as well as their demo’s lyrics, it seems that they are not about contemporary life or everyday struggles (I won’t even touch the “Mephisitic Wrath and Warning” lyrical themes descriptor that they have in Encyclopaedia Metallum). But even without the titles, the music contained in the album’s 36 minutes discards any doubt.
Herxheim is a project of Howl of Ebb’s Patrick Brown (under the Brungard alias here) which slithers in the dregs of first wave black metal with an industrial tenacity. Formed in 2017, the band released a demo in 2019 (magnificently named Cultivating Throne of Fur and graced with an even better cover art) and returned this year with their debut full-length.
Incised Arrival exults in thick, crunchy dissonance; high energy, ritualized composition patterns, and a raw attitude form a hazy bubbling mass which is deeply rooted in first-wave black metal. Structurally it relies less on agile lead guitars and more on eerily haunting keyboard sound (so characteristic of the early ‘90s) and powerful crude percussion, being not as riff-centric as the (early black metal) revival wave tends to be. The guitars are not absent, but they tend to be used to thicken up the bleak occult atmosphere in a noisey way, while also contributing (along with the percussion) to a harsh industrial machinic monotony which differentiates the album from its peers, bringing to mind the legendary Swiss Mordor. Moreover, the one contemporary name that popped in mind while listening to Herxheim was that of Hail Conjurer; both bands seem to emit a peculiar crunchy branch of quirky occult masculinity.
A flickering exhibition of black/doom metal (more in spirit than in terms of speed, for there several outbursts of speed), Herxheim’s debut contains material that prowls upon some strange corners of the genre’s history and rightly claims the occult characterisation.