Stripping something down to its core components is one of the oldest and most powerful of tropes. The story of getting down to the core of things has immeasurable power over us. In fact, it appears that it becomes more and more relevant the farther along we go; as our lives get more and more complicated in the modern age, the appeal of a return to basics strikes deep. Works as varied as Into the Wild, Breaking Bad and Inception all revolve around the idea of the fake, sleek, modern, and inauthentic self sloughing away, leaving behind it a core that rings with truth and power. These themes and narratives are the fuel behind Hypno5e‘s latest release, Alba – Les Ombres Errantes. There can be no other impetus for a band known for their complexity and contrasting influences to make a minimalist album; the drive which makes such an effort go is inherently tied with the idea of a return to basics.
That doesn’t mean that the album is simple. Plenty of the elements that have become the band’s staple over the long years of their work are still present. You can expect to find the unique use of samples, the multiple languages, the intricate and abstract lyricism. In the realms of music, much of the complexity of composition has been maintained; there are poly-rhythms, the signature timbre of the main vocals and long tracks which duck and weave between passages, iterations, and self reference. This makes Alba an album that is as hard to digest as previous works by the band. Make no mistake in thinking that this is a more “palatable” release; in ways, it’s more difficult.
That’s exactly because it has been stripped down. Forgoing electronics almost entirely (and even nominally changing their name for this release, to A Backward Glance on a Travel Road), the band create the depth we have come to expect of them with drums, acoustic guitars and bass. The result is an even thicker tapestry of musical ideas, as the instruments work extra hard to lend meat to the compositions. Now we come to the crux of the matter however: is this a good thing? Here, as with most tropes, Your Mileage May Vary. The resulting sound on Alba is one much more somber and melancholic than previous releases, and that’s saying something when talking about a band who have always dealt with ideas of breakdown, death, nihilism and faith.
This also means that the highlights of the album are more spread-out; whereas previous releases were very much in keeping with the post metal style, in which a crescendo strikes at just the right time to elicit an emotional response, here the lack of electronics also means a lack of heavy hitting, groovy riffs and passages. As a result, the album is more of a whole unit, a continuum rather than a series of rises and falls. Here, once again, we come to the question: is this a good thing? At the end of the day, it depends on what you’re expecting from this release. If you’re coming in with a mind for the moving and bottomless heaviness of previous releases by the band, you’ll be disappointed. But if what draws you to Hypon5e is their ability to weave darkness, melancholy, hope, and meaning into one complex whole, this is exactly what you’ll get. Alba is an intricate piece of work and not one for everyone. But for those who have the desire to discover it, it holds much of merit.