Hexen - Official Website

Being And Nothingness

United States Country of Origin: United States

1. Macrocosm
2. Grave New World
3. Defcon Rising
4. Private Hell
5. Walk As Many, Stand As One
6. Stream Of Unconsciousness
7. Indefinite Archetype
8. The Nescient
9. Nocturne

Review by Greg on January 20, 2024.

Hexen's second, and last, full-length Being and Nothingness is a very difficult album to review, I'm aware of this. The more I tried avoiding comparisons between this and what the band had accustomed us to, the more I failed. Maybe everything it needed was a disclaimer sticker on it saying "Hey, you! Did you like State of Insurgency? Well, don't buy this then!". But you know, a second album is always a crucial test for every band, and when one has to follow up a near-perfect work, it becomes quite a feat for both veterans and newcomers. And releasing a State of Insurgency: Part II probably would have spread the wrong message, that Hexen were actually out of creativity only after their first album. But I'm not even sure this sophomore can be classified as 'thrash'. I heard more than one voice drawing parallels to the infamous melodeath scene, and while Being and Nothingness mercifully avoids the overt poppiness of certain contemporary household names (Arch Enemy, to name one), at times it can get dangerously close to the rails previously laid by Slaughter of the Soul and followers.

The major lyrical shift was surely one of the biggest departures from the debut's aesthetics. Okay, given that in their magnum opus' booklet they mentioned philosophers Hume and Nietzsche among their inspirations, in the company of the more usual names, it was something to expect (fear?), in a way. Not to mention that their debut was basically a compilation of various demo songs, while now they had to write exclusively new compositions, so a little less topic heterogeneity had to be the logical outcome. But I understand you, it's not easy to stand by them when they include lines like 'My most terrifying thoughts are of a finite universe' in a thrash album. Jokes aside, the lyrics are undoubtedly a more interesting reading than, say, Weapons of Thrash Destruction if you're that type of guy, but when they're at their most existential-selves you might stop paying attention to the music and genuinely be lost within them.

As for the music, most of it was a surprise as well. The vocals, despite being basically the last thing entering the scene (a full 3 minutes and a half into the album), are also another crucial point regarding whether you'll like Being and Nothingness or not. Andre Hartoonian's voice underwent a radical change, settling on a lower tone which makes him barely recognizable. No more a psychopath confessing his criminous activity with a deranged smile still painted on his face, I can almost picture him reflecting in a The Thinker-like pose on the meaning of life and similar stuff with this humble Joel Grind/Balmore Lemus hybrid. I wouldn't dismiss it as a poor performance, since some songs really benefit from this different style, but I can't say it's a total win either. As you may imagine though, neither the rest remained trapped in 2008. First of all, I'm not too fond of the production: the drum sound (especially the snare, just hear the 0:46 'Grave New World' fill) is disappointing and even the bass is toned down a bit, the gravity of which you may imagine based upon Hartoonian's precedent work. On the upside, I can always appreciate some 'coldness' evoked by the mix, even if that doesn't help preventing Being and Nothingness from sounding way more Swedish than American; and, obviously, if you approached this expecting more lead guitar goodness, it may be useful to know that Ronny Dorian and returning founding member Artak Tavaratsyan find an even more fertile landscape here...

One thing that's for sure is that Being and Nothingness has plenty of tricks up its sleeve to unsheathe throughout nearly an hour of music: frequent external influences, tempo changes, accompanying (or even lead) keyboard patterns, acoustic interludes, you name it. Unfortunately, given also the absolute excellent average level of State of Insurgency's compositions, tracks such as 'Defcon Rising' or 'Stream of Unconsciousness' just end up being their weakest so far. And, I'm afraid... ever.

In a way, I feel somewhat guilty of singling out the worst songs, because each one of them has at least a memorable sequence hidden in it. For example, I'm no stranger to a regular listening of songs that have a weak first half and an awesome second half, and if the latter is particularly good I can overcome the bad feelings towards the former and hold my patience, but I really could live without 'Indefinite Archetype''s uninspired wall of text verses before the actual meat and potatoes of the song. Every track here has a change of scenario halfway through it, so this sure makes for an interesting first listen, if you're in the right mood you'll constantly wonder where they'll go next. But you may imagine for yourself that, in doing so, Hexen had to trade up their immediate accessibility. State of Insurgency could be enjoyed by every thrash metal fan (at least everyone willing to give post-'90 thrash a chance, that is), but Being and Nothingness? I'm not so sure about it.

'Walk as Many, Stand as One', 'Grave New World' and 'The Nescient' still mark the most successful episodes here, with the first two being incidentally the most 'canonical' ones. Granted, they would still sound pretty out of place if put on the debut, but the extended instrumental passages are exquisite, especially on the first mentioned. Despite all this though, the easy highlight here was meant to be, and has to be the closing 'Nocturne'. A nearly 15 minutes long suite which sets the atmosphere reprising F. Chopin's homonymous classical piece, enfolds the listener in its dark wings, and carries him through a journey into the obscurity. It's, indeed, the track embodying the concept provided by the evocative artwork (courtesy of no less than Necrolord) the most. I can almost sense a vague Vektor influence during the fast parts, given that said band broke through just a year after State of Insurgency, while the long acoustic interlude near the middle brings me always welcomed flashbacks of Dissection and similar acts. Frequent, almost saccharine arpeggios are scattered all around, and there's even a keyboard melody kicking the whole thing off. Okay, once again, the vocal delivery stays substantially the same throughout the whole song, but here I see it more as declamatory means for the lyrics which, self-indulgence aside, reach their highest point right with this track.

Additionally, 'Nocturne' is the only track where Hartoonian remembers that he's also a top-tier bassist, based upon his constant noodling behind those amazing guitar solos (tear-jerking material warning: 7:43 and 13:17), and eventually earning his lone solo spot at 9:25. I simply invite you to give it a spin and judge by yourself, possibly with the lyrics under your eye. Judging by this track alone, I'd strongly suspect that the guys secretly wanted to go full-on Crimson on their sophomore and compose a 50-minutes song instead of an album. Who knows?

What I do know, though, is that not only 'Nocturne' may remain one of thrash's most shining stars ever (pardon the oxymoron), but sadly it also constitutes the most fitting epitaph for Hexen's history. Its own final words eventually turned out to be prophetic, albeit unintentionally, since few people could comprehend a work of this caliber. But I'd have never wished that Being and Nothingness would already be their swansong.

...and the pity of it all is, it all ends in perplexity.

Rating: 8.2 out of 10