Hemina are one of those bands that I really want to/”should” like but have never quite gotten myself around to. On previous releases, something in their sound felt off to me, even though it bares favorable comparisons to groups like Ayreon, Voyager, Haken or even Caligula’s Horse (it’s not a coincidence that two of those names are Australian). To wit, Hemina make the kind of over-the-top, brightly colored progressive metal that I’m known to love. So what went wrong? What shortcoming kept me from wholly embracing the band? It’s a question that’s always hard to answer, as these kinds of near misses are hard to articulate; if they were downright bad, it’d be. But that’s far from the case, so what exactly made me check my enthusiasm in the past?
The band’s latest release, Night Echoes, provides a possible answer (or rather, answers) to this question, in both the positive and negative form. That is to say that their latest release both breaks free from the limitations of their previous albums and yet still preserves something that doesn’t quite sit right with me. Let’s start by looking at the former, namely what works better on Night Echoes than on previous releases. First of all, the vocals remain the strongest point of Hemina and are even better on Night Echoes. The balance between the different vocalists in the band (they technically all contribute vocals) works well and Jessica Martin’s timbre is especially excellent in its somewhat backing role. Most of all, the composition for the vocals remains great and evokes the powerful feelings which stand behind this release, yet another concept album from the band.
Secondly, Hemina’s brand of synth-infused progressive metal is something that’s always been close to my heart. On opener “The Only Way” for example or on the quiet passages of “Flicker”, the way the 80’s/glitzy-neon influences are worked into the music are excellent (check out the vocals on those quiet passages of “Flicker” as well, they’ll blow you away). These influences create a fun and energetic feeling to the album, something which I think wasn’t as solidified or well executed in previous releases. To be succinct, this time around it feels as if these electronic embellishments were baked in from the start of the recording process rather than being some-what tacked on and incongruous.
But herein start to creep in the problems; some of the rest of the compositions and transitions feel very out of place and jarring. Whether it’s the production (which sometimes results in the drums burying a lot of the guitars and bass) or the sheer amount that Hemina are trying to do on the release, something feels disjointed. This is the main thing that’s always haunted their music for me and perhaps the secret to why I’ve always been just shy of singing their praises from the rooftops. There’s some polishing work needed on how tracks, segments, and solos fit in together. Take for example “What’s the Catch”, the second track from the album; the verses and the chorus are bridged by an odd guitar line which doesn’t seem to come from anywhere, fading away as quickly as it came, and the solo feels like its own track. The solo feels like its own track rather than a continued discussion with the rest of the track.
And that’s the frustrating thing because the pieces by themselves are great and when everything gels together, Hemina are a damn good band, totally deserving of the high pedigree I assigned them in the opening paragraph. On Night Echoes a lot of what works for them is even better, their groove and unique edge shining through brilliantly. But too often things fall apart and parts of the tracks, or the tracks in relation to each other, seem disjointed and unclear. This makes the album hard to hold on to and sometimes robs the band of much needed momentum and engagement. If you’re a fan of progressive metal then there’s much to like here but I can’t help but still hold on to hope that, at some point in the future, the band will dig deep and bring forth a more cohesive take on their vision.
Night Echoes releases on the 9th of August. You can head on over to the band’s Bandcamp linked above to pre-order it.