“Paint it black,” they said. So they did. Thrash, death, post-rock, hardcore, industrial, and whatever other styles of music have all been given a nefarious char. Purists hate it (yeah, they’re still at it). I love it. Crossover opportunities like these challenge us to try new things and build bridges for listeners to expand their tastes, and that’s always a good thing in my book. Conveniently so, Copenhagen’s Hexis offered up their second release on the year, an EP titled XII. They’re an ideal example of precisely how well black metal and hardcore can mesh – sharpening their misanthropic barbs and honing their burning sincerity, the sum is simply greater than its parts. Though this subgenre is now a fairly common form, Hexis’ take has been anything but. Refined through distilling these genres’ commonalities to their purest, they’ve claimed dominion over the most aggressive, crushing, and menacing realms of the subgenre. And yet, it feels as though their LP release from April of this year, Tando Ashanti, has flown under the radar despite proving to be a virtually flawless representation of this corner of metaldom.
That being said, it’s a bit unexpected to see a followup release on the heels of a quality full-length. At the same time, maybe these dudes just wanted to kick out these jams and strike while the iron was hot. Either way, XII closely follows the tone and sonic approach of Tando Ashanti, and doesn’t do much (if anything at all) to push their boundaries as a band or experiment with a different palette of sounds. Opener “Derelictus” is the kind of sand-thrown-in-the-eyes greeting that only these guys can pull off. It’s expertly violent and pointed, a perfect opener for the EP – short, loud, intense, and properly sets the tone for the next 15 minutes. Getting acclimated has never been this quick or easy, and the sting sticks around just long enough to get you through the EP, forget, and come back asking for more. In this instance, that’s exactly what we need.
Second track “Nefarius” continues their rhythmic assault and offsets things with some patient and sludgy droves. Whereas other blackened acts wear on listeners like a hailstorm, Hexis smother and suffocate like an avalanche, facilitating a sense of hopelessness as opposed to mere dread. They replicate a Portal-like relentlessness – a cruel, gritty density. “Famelicus” and closer “Sacrificium” bring a few sinister melodic moments into the foray among swelling tremolos and annihilating salvos of sludgy explosions and cavernous, doomy eruptions. Filip Andersen’s vocals are equal parts disgust and vitriol, like a superhero spawned by the essences of black metal and hardcore. Throughout, his energy is matched by remarkable aural physicality. This band is constantly threatening, and never flinching. Needless to say, Hexis still owns the market on adrenaline-pumping bitterness. They still play with a garish and acrid intensity. They still sound every bit as loud and pissed off as ever.
If given a little more time between releases, XII might feel like a reward for our patience. Even for those who were thirsty for more new material (myself included), it doesn’t really feel necessary or fresh. But who cares? XII is a treat for fans, and its brief runtime begs you to throw it on and off without thinking twice. It’s an impulse listen, and a worthy one at that. Sometimes you get an exemplary masterpiece of an album deserving of close, repeated listens, and other times you get an EP snapshot of a band at the top of their game (and many, many other times you get something way, way worse than that).