Hippie Death Cult Background
Hippie Death Cult is a psychedelic rock band that formed in 2017 in Portland Oregon. Their current lineup includes Laura Phillips on vocals and bass, Eddie Brnabic on guitar, and Harry Silvers on drums. Here’s a little fun fact: “Hippie” here is actually an acronym that stands for Happy Intelligent People Pursuing Infinite Enlightenment through sound and vibration. I can dig it.
This riff heavy rock outfit released their debut album, 111, in 2019 via Cursed Tongue Records. This was incredibly well received, and led to the band ultimately signing with Heavy Psych Sounds Records.
Through this label, the band released Circle of Days, their second album, in 2021. That same year, they also released Doom Sessions Vol. 5, a split album with High Reeper. By this point, Hippie Death Cult was soaring to the top of the Doom Charts as well as securing a place on several “Album of the Year” lists, developing quite a fan base in the process.
In spite of making music nonstop for the past five years or so, Hippie Death Cult took no breaks and announced their newest album, Helichrysum, in the Spring of 2023. This album is quite a pivotal point for the band, as it’s the first to feature bassist Laura Phillips tackling vocals on a full length album. To say she accomplished this endeavor would be a gross understatement; she totally annihilated it and then some.
Arise was the first single to be released from Helichrysum. It was also my first time hearing Hippie Death Cult, and the first time many people heard Laura Phillips on vocals. What an introduction it was.
The song begins with crunchy guitars and some impressive booming drums, courtesy of new drummer Harry Silvers, which will turn out to be quite prevalent on the album as a whole. Phillips’ vocals are alternatively commanding and howling. The song is a great showcase of the band’s skills and strengths, and certainly did the job of generating interest in the new album. I know it did for me!
This impressive opening is followed by the song Shadows, slowing the pace down considerably while giving us a bit of a heavy blues feel from the guitar. Laura Phillips’ vocals here remind me a lot of some of the popular female alternative rock vocalists of the 1990s, particularly Paula Cole. Don’t get me wrong, though; this is still a heavy song.
Better Days was the second single from the album, and is particularly great at highlighting Phillips’ soulful vocals with the emotionally wrought lyrics. “Down with this charade, carry us along to the better days,” Phillips howls assertively. She says of the track, “Better Days draws lyrical inspiration from colossal dark stars destined to transform into light-swallowing black holes, reflecting the destructive power of an inflated ego that obliterates all goodness in its path.”
Dang. So, in layman’s terms, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” This is followed by the song Red Giant (I’m sensing a theme here), which is an even crunchier, all-out rock song. The vocals are even more firm and domineering in their delivery, complete with a healthy dose of the banshee screaming we all know and love from Phillips. This track stands out as being less doomy and more of a (very) heavy psychedelic rock song. The choppy guitar here reminds me of a much heavier version of a 1960s secret agent show theme song, which I found to be a very cool touch.
Toxic Annihilator begins in much the same vein, with an all out scream right off the bat. This one is the heaviest song on the album where vocals are concerned, shrieks aplenty. This was the song that proved to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that Laura Phillips is a total badass. I really wasn’t expecting such a heavy song after hearing Arise and Better Days as my first impressions of the album.
I had no idea Hippie Death Cult could be this heavy, but it was the most pleasant surprise. The album ends by first bringing back the doom vibes and slowing things down again with Nefelibata.
Finally, we have Tomorrow’s Sky, rather chill overall, while still maintaining heaviness. This is the type of song that surrounds you; the rollicking drums, heavy bass, Phillips’ soaring vocals combine for a lovely experience that you can just close your eyes and listen to contentedly.
The Bottom Line
It’s been a while since I’ve heard such a well-rounded, thoughtful composition, particularly from a modern band. Hippie Death Cult really brings the variety here, opening with songs that show off their signature doom and psychedelic rock sound. Then, they surprise us in the middle with some crazy hard rock/metal songs, then slow us back down with another dose of doom and a final ethereal yet fervent end. This is an album that truly lived up to all the hype surrounding it.
To be able to produce something that highlights your strongest skills as musicians while still providing plenty of musical and vocal variety, piquing interest, and making it seem effortless is astounding. I know that Hippie Death Cult worked insanely hard to accomplish this and that’s evident in every note. Job very well done.
Helichrysum is set to be released on October 20, 2023 through Heavy Psych Sounds Records.
Oh, and in case you missed it, check out my thoughts about the Divas of Witch Mountain!