Back about 10 years ago, maybe longer, a group of Stoner/Doom bassists introduced me to some mind-bendingly good music like YOB, Bongripper, Black Road and Orchid. Shoot, a real list would take pages!
Another band, written about with awe and reverence, was Sub Rosa. They had this unique blend of crushing doom, a rhythm section from hell itself, and ethereal female vocals along with violins. They were awesome!
Hibernaut, even with vaunted members from that legendary band, sure aren’t Sub Rosa!
When various members of legendary bands like Sub Rosa form new units, the expectations can get a bit dodgy. So when Dave Jones, an amazing bassist from the early Sub Rosa let me know about the coming release, all sorts of preconceptions formed, like right away. When I put the opener, Stygian Nectar, on my cans (headphones), I had a lot of conflicting thoughts. I knew I had to start from scratch with this band.
Hibernaut sure aren’t Sub Rosa!
The sound, the vibe, the vocals, the riffs, the whole package took me to quite a different time and space. Back to the late 80’s and early 90’s, when the underground was SERIOSULY underground. Black and white fanzines of questionable repute and quality with hideous artwork that just screamed EXTREME!
It threw me totally off balance. I’ve spent enough time studying the writing of Steve Howe and Outlaws of the Sun that it’s become instinctual to dig deeper into the music and connect the dots. And the dots I connected kinda didn’t make sense at first, until I put this album on…
That’s right- one of the most infamous albums in the history of Heavy Metal, Celtic Frost’s Cold Lake, the one you can’t buy or even fucking stream, it’s so hated. It’s also one of my all-time favorites, so some day I’m going to have to write-up a defense of it. But I digress…
Tom G. Warrior is one of the most inventive, original, and overlooked guitarists of any genre. The dude flat-out didn’t give a shit about standard song structures, chord progressions, even basic rhythm or tempo. Dude could barely play during the Hellhammer days, and now he’s an icon. All of the Celtic Frost albums contain some of the most bizarre guitar parts you can imagine, especially his leads. There was something awesome about it, and I honestly thought he’d take metal in a totally different direction. He ultimately did, but not in any way I could have predicted.
Anyway, I took a break from Ingress and listened to Cold Lake and Vanity/Nemesis, and there it was. Rolling chord structures that bobbed and weaved all over the place but never lost their groove. Vocals that barked and hissed with a raspy intensity. Bass and drums that hold the maelstrom together in such a way that it made sense.
There was only one problem: Dave didn’t know those albums too well, and was more familiar with Monotheist, an album related more to Tryptikon than Cold Lake or To Mega Therion. Dammit, I need to read more Steve Howe!
Regardless, Hibernaut still takes me back to a time and place when the underground truly didn’t care about convention, took massive risks and condemned themselves to obscurity, until streaming and search engines made the discoveries possible. Far, far more people listen to Celtic Frost, even Black Sabbath, than they ever did during when their work was first produced.
Guitarist/vocalist Dave Jones, lead guitarist Joey Toscano, drummer Zach Hatsis (also former Sub Rosa), and bass-gawd Josh Dupree have managed to tap-into a divergent part of Metal Evolution that I didn’t realize was sorely needed until I experienced it. Every minute of every song has an element of discovery and adventure to it. When you think they’re gonna zig, they zag and then take it somewhere new and exciting.
The songs are as deep and dark as the Lovecraftian themes that inspire them. And like the best Lovecraftian material, the sense of terror and awe is buffeted by buckets of…Fun! It’s a blast from start to finish, and gets progressively better after 10, 15, 20 listens.
Like the rest of the best albums I’ve heard so far this year (Hail the Void, Faerie Ring), Hibernaut makes use of all the musicians in the band, giving each a chance to showcase their skills and inventiveness. I’m not ready to call it yet, but the combination of Hatsis and Dupree might, just might, be the best rhythm section I’ve heard so far this year. Aside from their technical skills and abilities, the synergy between them is on par with Butler/Ward, Bruford/Whetton and a few other name drops I can think of.
The support they lay down for Jones and Toscano, to give them room to play, is epic. Even if you’re not a bass/drum geek like moi, one can easily get lost in the interplay of the guitars as they seamlessly create a sonic canvass that grabs your attention while grasping to absorb it all. I guess it’s a bit like watching a stream of Picasso paintings on an Imax screen. There’s no way to pay attention to all the awesomeness, because it’s all so big and awesome.
There’s no way for me to pick a favorite track. I keep playing little games, like not listening to it, then listening to it, to see if I still like it. I do! I start the album on various songs, and invariably the last song I listen to sticks in my brain like a pleasant earworm. The riffs keep rolling in my mind for an hour or so, and when I go back and listen again it’s even better.
Ingress by Hibernaut is one of my favorite releases so far this year. There’s a spirit, a vibe to it that reminds me of the bad ol’ days, when underground bands didn’t stand a chance against the likes of Cinderella, Ratt or whoever else media moguls declared as Metal. Back in the days when you had to know about a release you read about in a fanzine, or your friends shared with you with hushed tones and wild eyes. A true throwback to an era that never quite existed the way we remember it today, yet at the same time is totally contemporary and new.Very highly recommended!