Hexen - Official Website

State Of Insurgency

United States Country of Origin: United States

2. Gas Chamber
3. Past Life
4. Knee Deep In The Dead
5. Chaos Aggressor
6. Bedlam Walls
7. The Serpent
8. No More Color
9. Mutiny And Betrayal
10. Seditions In Peacetime
11. Desolate Horizons
12. State Of Insurgency
13. Outro

Review by Greg on November 27, 2023.

There's literally no beating around the bush when introducing this band to people. Thrash metal with an overabundance of solos is a niche in the whole retro-thrash panorama that really deserves my attention, and Hexen's debut State of Insurgency is somewhat widely recognized as one of the finest examples of it. So, if you're still new to them, what else can be said? It's simple: if you always begged your favourite NWOTM band to incorporate more elaborate solos, or just more of them, in their music, this is gonna be your go-to stuff (unless said band is Terrifier or Exmortus – in that case, why are you even asking?). It's the wet dream of every headbanger who ever touched a six-string.

Seriously, leads sure don't pop up at every corner like the said Exmortus are used to, but when they do, oh boy – the skill on display is immense. I still can't fathom how every Hexen member, except for the energetic drummer Carlos Cruz, could have severed their ties to the metal world for nearly 10 years after the project here examined came to an end. In a scene saturated with promising acts doomed by mediocre guitarists, I can't think of a band who wouldn't at least try to hire these shredders (and their fellow bassist, more on that later) to improve their level, except for the aforementioned two. And yet Ronny Dorian and temporary member James Lopez also exhibit an ear for melody like few thrash virtuosos (among the already few at all) can sport, like the endings of 'Past Life' or 'Seditions in Peacetime', or the entire 'Desolate Horizons' where Cruz's acoustic guitar parts confirm us that talent, in all likelihood, overflowed in material form out of Hexen's whole lineup.

Except for... the vocals?

It's a complaint that I can understand, Andre Hartoonian's delivery may seem slightly amateurish and even sporadically out of tune at a first hearing, but his deranged accent grew on me with time and, frankly, I can't think of a more suitable voice to recite lines like:

The evil brews, a new plan arrives
Slowly as the media settles back down
Another explosion will soon shred the town ('Blast Radius')

Ceased their bodies to exist
Severed the legs so they couldn't run
I told the victim's families
That I had fucking fun ('Gas Chamber')

Speaking about lyrics, they are another factor setting Hexen apart from the whole neo-thrash scene. Not only State of Insurgency is a loose concept album about terrorism, a pretty original theme if I ever saw one, but more topics are touched and all of them are covered with brilliant and interesting writing all the way through. Not to mention that 'Past Life' may be the most badass song beginning with a phrase like 'This is a song for the grimly depressed' ever made. Jokes aside, there's also room for a science fiction adventure ('Knee Deep in the Dead'), the detailed description of a nightmarish asylum ('Bedlam Walls'), and even some hints of the philosophical direction pursued by the follow-up in 'No More Color'. Bad luck Hartoonian discarded his vocal style for the subsequent – and, sadly, last – effort Being and Nothingness, but I recognize the music on display there surely needed something else.

I also loved how Hexen refrained from opening the album with their best and most violent song (okay, here it's at second place but...), yet again in complete counter-trend if compared to the scene, by contrast starting with 'Blast Radius' which feels more like a prelude to devastation, sitting comfortably in its mid-paced approach yet simultaneously showcasing everything they have to offer (with a bass solo to round it off). It's no easy feat, you know? Slower songs, mercifully, are not a rarity on State of Insurgency, with the other best examples being 'Chaos Aggressor' (with another acoustic intro and then a buildup to verse heavily reminiscent of Kreator's 'Riot of Violence', always a plus in my book) and the spartan, yet fearsome, 'Mutiny and Betrayal', both obviously sped up by the always impressive soloing in the middle. The aforementioned 'Gas Chamber' and 'Seditions in Peacetime', as well as the title-track, show instead Hexen at their most headbangable-selves. It shouldn't really come as a surprise by now, but the latter's chill-inducing second half contains also one of the smoothest lead sections you'll find in coeval records, before a monstruous dissolvence outro... there is brilliant stuff wherever you look.

I, just like many others before me, appreciate when a band can keep an album's length short, a fact which usually implies that they stood more focused from beginning to end. State of Insurgency just does the complete opposite, and it's perhaps even more admirable because of this. It may be also worth noting that there's only one new song here (the title-track), while the others are all re-recorded from the previous demos; in any way, the overall quality is satisfyingly consistent to the point that you probably didn't even notice this fact before reading this sentence. Hexen admittedly had lots of killer songs that didn't deserve to remain relegated to minor releases (taking advantage of this claim for a shout-out to the amazing 'Heal a Million... Kill a Million' which instead didn't make the cut). With that being said, if you think that 56 minutes are still a bit too much for a thrash album, you may want to exclude a couple songs from the playlist (mine are usually 'Knee Deep in the Dead' and 'The Serpent'), but each one of them is worth at least some spins, you can have my word for it.

Revival thrash just doesn't get better than this – arguably with the only exception of Fog of War's marvelous and virtually unreachable Here Lies Humanity, but this one comes pretty damn close. Everything else is simply doomed to stay behind the scenes every time this beast starts playing.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10