Style: Power Metal
Release Date: 25 Sep 2020
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The latest band back from beyond are Hexx, the San Francisco power metallers, with their fifth album since their founding as far back as 1978 under the name of Paradox. No, that's hardly prolific, but the band did break up in 1995 and it took them until 2013 to get back together again. Technically, this is the second album from the new Hexx, following 2017's Wrath of the Reaper, and there's only been one line-up change since, Don Wood replacing Mike Horn on bass.
I remember them from the mid eighties, though not well. I just remember them playing power/thrash rather than the death metal they dallied with for a few years into the nineties. The style here goes all the way back to their early days, though I think I prefer new vocalist Eddy Vega, whose voice is similar to Dan Bryant's but stands out more because it's edgier and thrashier while staying clean. He reminds me in many ways of David Wayne of Metal Church, with a strong side of early speed metal singers.
Metal Church leap out quickly for comparison too, but Hexx are thrashier, even if they stay at a pretty consistent mid to fast pace throughout. It takes them until Over But the Bleeding to slow down to a heavier, doomier speed and that's ten tracks in as the last non-bonus song here. Until then, any slower parts are just dynamic play because they'll speed back up again within the same songs.
There's a patience here that surprised me. Hexx seem happy to be back but they're not leaping all over the place in joy that they have new material out. There's energy here, because this is energetic music, but it's very much controlled energy. I wonder how much of that is that sixty per cent of this band are relatively new, Vega joining in 2015 along with second guitarist Bob Wright, and Wood arriving three years later. Dan Watson is the only founder member here, though drummer John Schafer joined as far back as 1986. In other words, most of these guys aren't trawling in the nostalgia of the early days.
While that may lose some vibrancy in proceedings, it makes for a patient and confident release, with a succession of quality riffs that do their job capably without trying to be the best thing ever. I dug the back and forth handovers between Watson and Wright a lot, the solos good but the rhythm work spot on. Vultures Gather Round is all about that, the pair of them trading solos while the other keeps up a solid, strong riff. This is the sort of deceptively simple song that sounds good but inconsequential on a first listen but really starts to burrow into our brains more with each time through.
And perhaps the best and worst aspects to this album are that it does that consistently. The negative is that some people may listen to this, like it and promptly move on because it doesn't really seem to do anything special or flash, with the possible exception of the title track's catchy rap of a chorus. But the positive is that anyone who does start it over again will start to realise just how effective this all is and how capably it's done. Entangled in Sin was a good immediate song, but I sort of slid through a lot of what followed until I started it again and Vultures Gather Round, Beautiful Lies and Power Mad suddenly felt like old friends.
Perhaps it's still a little long, but ditching the three bonus tracks solves that. I rather like the first of them, Signal 30 I-5, but Night of Pain must contain the cheesiest metal lyrics I've heard in a long time. Is this a cover of something from 1984 that I've carefully managed to forget? It seems appropriate for the album to end with Over But the Bleeding, its slower pace preparing us for the end.
I wonder what impact this will have in 2020, because Hexx are from the Bay Area but this feels like the sort of album that would do much better in Europe. I'm not particularly surprised to find the band on Wikipedia only in German. This ought to play really well over there and in the UK as well, given that I hear the old Judas Priest and Black Sabbath influences combined much in the same way that Toranaga did so well. Back home, it may have a harder sell. I hope not. I want to hear the next Hexx album right now.
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