We are continually told that attention spans are ever-shortening. Especially where creative media is concerned, shorter is supposedly better. People are more likely to read a sentence than a paragraph, or a paragraph rather than a chapter, or listen to a single more than an album. Fortunately – not least for us at Heavy Blog with our love of the longer form – this is not a universal trend. French ‘cinematic metal’ quartet Hypno5e are more committed than most to bucking that trend.
With a career that reaches all the way back to the early noughties, but really kicked into gear with 2012’s Acid Mist Tomorrow, Hypno5e have fully committed to creating densely packed albums that demand to be listened to as a complete work. Indeed, although A Distant (Dark) Source has 11 track divisions burned into the CD, the tracklisting shows that it is actually a collection of five songs, with three of them divided into three parts apiece. Therefore, these are not songs that can simply be tossed into a shuffled playlist. These multi-part tracks, reaching collectively towards twenty minute runtimes, really must be listened to in their correct sequence.
The density of Hypno5e’s music is more than matched by the weightiness of the concepts that they build their music and lyrics around. A Distant (Dark) Source may just contain their most ambitious concept yet. The inspiration for the album stems from an ancient Bolivian lake, Lake Tacura, which dried out to become desert and salt flats several thousand years ago, high in the Andes. A Distant (Dark) Source is an imaginative exploration of those who lived, and loved, on the shores of this lake before it evaporated, returning as shadows under cover of the night. High-minded stuff, in more ways than one.
A Distant (Dark) Source sees Hypno5e return to more familiar ground after their previous excursion, released in 2018 under their A Backward Glance on a Travel Road alter-ego, Alba – Les Ombres Errantes took the band on a significant detour into fully acoustic territory. If anything, leaving their amps and distortion pedals on the shelf for an album has meant they have been re-introduced with renewed vigour. Both “In The Blue Light Of Dawn” and “A Distant Dark Source” include the kind of punishing, downtuned gut punches you’d expect from Black Tongue in the later stages of their labyrinthine structures.
Despite these long, atmospheric songs full of dynamics and high-minded concepts, A Distant (Dark) Source isn’t really a post-metal album. It’s a bit too riffy to rest comfortably in that particular pigeonhole. Their self-selected ‘cinematic metal’ descriptor is pretty much perfect: Their sound is effectively a meeting of the exploratory prog-metal of mid-period Opeth, the ambition and scope of The Ocean‘s more ‘collective’ early years and the crushing heaviness and attention to detail of Amenra. Meaty.
The album is also peppered with laconic spoken word passages, which have almost become one of Hypno5e’s calling cards. Interestingly, whilst they often sing in English, these spoken word passages are exclusively in French. Certainly to these stubbornly monolingual ears, they add layers of mystique and despondency to the overall atmosphere of the album that an English language script couldn’t have hoped to match.
The album concludes with “Tauca – Part II (Nowhere)”, with Part I absent without explanation, where vicious blastbeats suddenly intrude on a gorgeous strings and piano led lament, and concludes with startlingly anguished screaming over and achingly beautiful string quartet. It’s a remarkably powerful grand finale to what is probably Hypno5e most effective album to date.
The sheer volume of ideas that Hypno5e pour into their albums means that getting properly acquainted with them has always been closer to a marathon than a sprint. A Distant (Dark) Source is no different, but reaching that point of familiarity has felt like a less arduous or daunting task than ever before. It is the extremes – those moments of delicate beauty and of savage brutality – that provide the hooks to draw the listener back for the repeat listens required for it’s more subtle charms to reveal themselves.
A Distant (Dark) Source may not immediately grab your attention, but given time and space it could well sink deep into your affections. It is an album that deserves to have its seventy minutes listened to in one sitting, and whilst that won’t be for everyone, it will be a particularly succulent treat for the patient. Good things do indeed come to those who wait.
A Distant (Dark) Source is out now via Pelagic Records, and is available for purchase on the band’s Bandcamp page.