Hexvessel, the genre-bending Finnish band, is set to release their sixth album, ‘Polar Veil,’ on September 22nd via Svart Records. This new venture represents a fascinating evolution of style and sound for lead vocalist Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, who creatively melds his past experiences into a unique musical composition, culminating in an icy, metallic homage to the Sub-Arctic North.
‘Polar Veil’ is indubitably an authentic Hexvessel creation; nonetheless, it is steeped in McNerney’s personal and artistic history. The album resonates with the dark ambiance of McNerney’s past ventures into black metal, ritual folk psychedelia, and doom, and is tinged with an underlying current of gothic influence.
During the winter of 2022, McNerney secluded himself in a self-made studio nestled in his log cabin. Drawing from the core elements of his musical journey, he embraced his role as a shamanic shapeshifter, using the solitude and profound tranquility of nature as his sole source of inspiration.
The concept of shapeshifting in Finnish folklore is deeply rooted in the country’s ancient shamanistic traditions. Shamanism was a central part of Finno-Ugric spiritual practices, which predate the arrival of Christianity in Finland.
The Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, compiled in the nineteenth century from oral folklore and mythology, provides a rich source of information about these ancient beliefs. In the Kalevala, several characters possess the ability to transform into animals or other forms. For example, the character Louhi, the mistress of the North, is often depicted as a bird or a witch-like figure, reflecting her shapeshifting abilities.
One of the most famous shapeshifters in Finnish mythology is the character of Väinämöinen, a wise old seer and a central figure in the Kalevala. He often uses his magical songs to change his shape or the shape of the world around him.
These stories reflect a belief system in which the natural and spiritual worlds were deeply interconnected. Shamans, who were seen as mediators between these worlds, would often use drumming, chanting, and other rituals to enter trance states, during which they might symbolically transform into animals or other beings. This shapeshifting was seen as a way to gain the wisdom, strength, or abilities of these creatures, or to travel to different realms.
With the advent of Christianity, these shamanistic practices gradually faded, but the stories and beliefs persisted in folklore. Today, they provide a fascinating glimpse into the spiritual life of ancient Finns.
Transpiring from the labyrinthine corridors of Finland’s multifaceted musical landscape, Hexvessel has persistently asserted its existence as a distinctive auditory phenomenon. Encompassing the duality of arcane folk and ethereal psychedelia, with undertones of mysticism and a delicate commentary on environmental matters, the band has traversed a captivating journey from an embryonic experimental endeavor to an entrenched musical entity gaining international acclaim.
Hexvessel was founded in 2009, conceived by British emigre Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, who migrated to Finland to plunge himself into the visceral core of local culture. McNerney, esteemed for his contributions to black metal conglomerates such as Dødheimsgard and Code, assembled a collective of like-minded musicians unified by a shared vision of a groundbreaking, psych-folk auditory expression.
The term “Hexvessel” itself can be broken down into two parts: “hex,” which is an English word of German origin meaning a spell or a charm, and “vessel,” which typically refers to a container or a conduit. In a spiritual or mystical context, a “vessel” can also refer to a person or object that channels spiritual or magical powers, however, in the context of the band, Hexvessel could be interpreted as a conduit for spells or magic, reflecting their interest in mystical and spiritual themes.
Hexvessel, known for their unique fusion of neo-folk and psychedelic rock, has an extensive discography that serves as a testament to their artistic journey. Their music, deeply rooted in nature and Finnish lore, has evolved over time, with each album marking a new chapter in their progression.
On August 5th, 2011, Hexvessel marked their musical debut with the album ‘Dawnbearer,’ released by Invada Records. This introductory work established their distinct artistic persona, seamlessly blending elements of folk, psychedelia, and mystical undertones. Their debut work, enriched with immersive soundscapes, garnered critical recognition and demonstrated their capacity to challenge and reshape the existing musical norms.
Hexvessel introduced their sophomore album, ‘No Holier Temple,’ on February 5th, 2011, under the auspices of Svart Records. The enlistment of multi-instrumentalist Kimmo Helen afforded the band the ability to diversify their sonic landscape, integrating psychedelic rock influences into their established folk ethos. McNerney’s growing appreciation for Finnish nature and mythology found expression in the album’s earth-focused and pagan themes. The critics praised both the musical expansion and the thematic substance of the album, highlighting the evolution of Hexvessel’s sound and style.
Hexvessel’s third album, ‘When We Are Death,’ signified a significant evolution in the band’s musical direction. Released on January 29th, 2016, by Century Media Records, the band made a noticeable shift from their folk roots towards a more psychedelic rock approach. This artistic departure elicited a range of reactions. While some critics applauded the evolution, others expressed nostalgia for their original folk-inspired sound. Yet, the album unmistakably reflected Hexvessel’s unwavering commitment to creative experimentation and their refusal to be boxed into a single genre.
Hexvessel’s fourth studio album, ‘All Tree,’ was introduced to the world on February 15th, 2019, through Century Media Records. With this release, the band made a thoughtful return to their folk beginnings, exhibiting their musical evolution and artistry through multi-layered melodies and deep reflections on philosophical and ecological themes. This renewed embrace of their original sound was praised by critics, who valued the matured reinterpretation of their inaugural style.
The band’s latest musical venture, ‘Kindred,’ launched on March 20, 2020, marked a triumphant return to their partnership with Svart Records. The album served as a harmonious convergence of their psychedelic and folk influences, demonstrating the breadth of their acquired musical insights. Hailed as a summation of their discography, it stood as a powerful testament to Hexvessel’s ever-dynamic artistic capabilities.
Hexvessel’s discography paints a fascinating tapestry of their artistic growth. Starting from their mystic folk beginnings with ‘Dawnbearer,’ progressing through the audacious psychedelic forays of ‘When We Are Death,’ and culminating in the harmonious blend of their latest release ‘Kindred,’ Hexvessel has constantly tested and transcended their own musical limits. Their unique sonic journey, marked by ceaseless artistic evolution, steadfast commitment to innovation, and a profound bond with their cultural and natural legacy, paints a distinct narrative in each album.
The band’s journey has also been shaped by their association with different record labels. Invada Records, Svart Records, and Century Media Records each played a role at various stages in the band’s evolution, impacting their musical exploration and influence.
The perception of Hexvessel’s work within the critical sphere has seen a dynamic shift over time, mirroring the band’s own daring experiments. Each album spurred thoughtful discussions and analyses, reinforcing Hexvessel’s position as a thought leader in the neo-folk and psychedelic rock domains. Early critiques that focused on their unique blend of styles have evolved into an appreciation of their pioneering spirit and thematic depth.
Hexvessel’s chronological musical journey traces their evolution from an experimental project to an influential force in the neo-folk and psychedelic rock realm. Their sound, driven by a fearless exploration of new musical frontiers while anchored to their deep reverence for nature and mythology, has experienced continuous growth and refinement.
Hexvessel’s impact on both the Finnish and international music scenes has been momentous. Their idiosyncratic amalgamation of folk and psychedelia not only broadened the horizons of Finnish music but also cast a luminary spotlight on the country’s vivacious and diverse music ecosystem. Furthermore, their melodious narratives have played an instrumental role in escalating the popularity of neo-folk, inspiring a new wave of musicians to explore this nuanced genre.
The lyrical substance of Hexvessel also bears significant cultural resonance. Their deft fusion of mythological elements, folklore, and environmental themes in their lyrics has intensified discussions surrounding nature conservation and has reignited a widespread interest in indigenous folklore. McNerney’s lyrical poetry serves as a nexus between primordial wisdom and contemporary concerns, urging audiences to contemplate their intricate relationship with nature and the cosmos.
Hexvessel’s trajectory has been punctuated by numerous significant milestones that reflect their journey’s depth and breadth. A pivotal moment came with their performance at the 2012 Roadburn Festival, where they shared the stage with illustrious bands like Ulver and Agalloch. Their performance not only augmented their international recognition but also cemented their place in the neo-folk and psychedelic music scene.
In 2013, their song ‘His Portal Tomb,’ from the album ‘No Holier Temple,’ was featured in the British supernatural drama series ‘Being Human,’ marking Hexvessel’s first foray into mainstream media and highlighting the transcendent and enigmatic quality of their music.
A noteworthy aspect of Hexvessel’s ethos is their commitment to organic and spontaneous music-making. For instance, their 2019 album ‘All Tree’ was recorded in a secluded woodland cabin in rural Finland, using entirely acoustic instruments. This approach, while unconventional, accentuates the band’s unyielding commitment to their artistic vision and deep connection with nature.
Another significant milestone was their selection for the renowned Finnish music event, Provinssi, in 2020. This not only showcased their ascending popularity in their adopted homeland but also reinforced the global resonance of their music. In spite of their genre’s niche nature, Hexvessel continues to enthrall audiences with their unique blend of mysticism, folk, and psychedelic rock.
With ‘Polar Veil,’ Hexvessel constructs an atmosphere imbued with introspective contemplation and themes of personal spiritual transcendence. This new album serves as a courageous proclamation from McNerney, who persistently redefines himself and explores nature’s mysticism through his music.
The first glimpse of the new album can be seen in the video for the track ‘Older Than The Gods’, which features guest vocals from Okoi of Bölzer, further emphasizing Hexvessel’s commitment to innovation and collaboration.
As we draw this discourse to a close, it is abundantly clear that Hexvessel serves as an embodiment of artistic metamorphosis, deeply anchored in traditional roots, yet fearlessly venturing into novel auditory horizons. Over more than a decade of continuous activity, the ensemble has etched a unique niche in the music industry, demonstrating the extensive possibilities inherent within musical creativity.
Their synthesis of contrasting music genres, the depth of their lyrical content, and their bold forays into previously uncharted territories of sound and thematics encapsulate their contribution to the international music landscape.
As Hexvessel continues to sail on its musical journey, the band’s exploration of sounds, themes, and traditions is likely to continue to engage, entertain, and inspire listeners across the globe.