Review by Michael on February 16, 2023.
With Totenpass (why does almost everyone have to use a German word in their works these days?) the US-American duo Häxanu brings their successor to Snare Of All Salvation to the man. What the two musicians offer on Totenpass is more or less the logical continuation of their first album, there are very few, if any, surprises here. But well, for black metal traditionalists and purists this should be more of a quality feature than a deterrent warning.
Let's start with the lovingly designed cover, on which some corpses celebrate a merry BBQ on a funeral pyre (or is it rather the traditional Bavarian dunghill?) while bats flutter around their bald heads. There is already the appropriate black metal mood when just watching. The acoustic intro, which awakens old Ulver nostalgia feelings, puts the listener in the appropriate mood also, although the shallow sea noise rather does not remind me of mountain passes. But let's not be petty. After the intro, the listener is then quickly torn from his nature-romantic dreams and spat in the midst of a merciless maelstrom of black magic and demonic fury.
The seven songs (two of which go beyond the length of 10 minutes) are quite varied, though they don't really offer anything new that you wouldn't have heard somewhere before. Often some keyboard sounds are integrated into the icy clashing riffs, which remind here and there of glorious times (just listen to the atmospheric part in 'Thriambus - Threnoidia' starting at minute 4, if you don't feel reminded of "In The Nightside Eclipse" here, please contact me). However, a dark blanket is also quickly thrown over this atmosphere again to pay tribute to the pure frenzy that newer bands like Spectral Wound also indulge in. But it is to be noted that the band is quite proficient in their craft, for despite the compositions that can be anticipated in places, the songs do not become boring due to the varied arrangements. Especially when the band strikes slightly punkier tones with a catchy tempo, as in 'Sparagmos', something sticks in the head. L.C. vocals are very varied ranging from manic desperate and shrill similar to Silencer and other DSBM bands to completely aggressive and psychopathic screaming which underlines the dark and yet very gripping atmosphere.
All in all Totenpass has become a quite convincing and quite well produced sophomore album that is worth discovering. The album is definitely a recommendation for a Sunday walk in the dark forest (or mountains) since not everything that is there is too obvious and some nuances are needed to be discovered by the listener. I have discovered many things in the songs in the meantime which i haven't heard immediately so go for a walk and listen but watch out if any bony figures that want to invite you to the BBQ!
Rating: 8.3 out of 10 Bavarian dunghills822
Review by Fernando on December 26, 2022.
It's been almost two decades since the so called “third wave of black metal” was first started popping out of the US, and continued to be used up until the 2010’s. In hindsight, grouping together bands like Leviathan and Xasthur with Deafheaven or Liturgy feels kinda wrong. That being said, the in-between fringes of bands like those, also spawned many black metal bands that were Avant-Garde and unorthodox, without discarding the grit of the second wave. And so, we have Häxanu, who return with their long-awaited sophomore LP, Totenpass, to be released through Amor Fati Productions.
Häxanu, are one of the many projects of prolific and consistent US black metal virtuoso Alex Poole, aka Esoterica, aka A.P.. His projects pretty much blew up in the underground throughout the 2010’s with some of the most bizarre and compelling black metal, even collaborating with Icelandic artists. Häxanu, is one such project teaming up with vocalist L.C.. Häxanu came out of nowhere in 2020 with Snare Of All Salvation, wherein a style of black metal that blended the epic melodicism of Hellenic black metal, with the cold atmospheres of Norwegian black metal was displayed and that album was universally praised by the underground. Three years later, the project has now delivered Totenpass, and the band is still at the top of their game.
As mentioned above, Häxanu play a style of black metal that balances melody, atmosphere and unrelenting aggression. The overall feeling is an oppressive and all-consuming, and for Totenpass the band maintained it, but have opted for a more aggressive and darker sounding style. The riffs, which continue to be the foundation of the songs for this project, as well as maintaining the complexity and technicality, create melodies that are much more somber and even melancholic, than the epic and sprawling riffs of the debut, but at the same time, the band doesn’t discard the majestic qualities. From the lengthy tracks to the odd signatures, and of course the keyboards enhancing the atmosphere and building momentum, all of it coalesces into a symphony of despotic darkness that’s nonetheless hypnotic, and entices you to keep listening.
A major change and addition to the music is actually the inclusion of acoustic guitars. The album’s intro track ‘Θάρσει’ and penultimate track ‘οὐδεὶς ἀθάνατος’ are instrumental, ambiance and acoustic guitar driven interludes that actually are a complement to the songs they precede, and while they’re small additions, they give the album more variety (to an already very varied and dynamic record) and something of a breathing room in-between the relentless onslaught of pure darkness overall. A.P. truly displays all his talents in all instruments, though the guitar and keyboards continue to be his forte, however, the drumming is also a standout, and is consistent with the previous record, alternating between blast beats, and rhythmic fills. And of course, L.C. as a vocalist is also consistently good, his wailing growls complements both the savagery of the music, but also the sombreness. The overall music has a very melancholic vibe that makes this record sound and feel so dark, and L.C.’s vocals also contribute to that feeling, as he manages to fit both moods with very little changes in tone and performance.
Finally I have to mention the production, as Häxanu is one of those black metal bands that actually benefit from having a clean production, however a noteworthy change from the debut is the fact that’s mixed much more professionally, because for as good and crisp as Snare Of All Salvation was, it was mixed extremely loudly, and that was corrected for this record, and more impressively, none of the grit, or small details and flourishes are lost. In many ways, the project did what all good bands should do with their sophomore record. They took everything that was good about their debut, made it better, improved in lacking areas, and had enough room to mix things up. And, at 45 minutes, this is a surprisingly well paced record, and it's also very evenly balanced, as the album has hard hitting songs, and sprawling epics, and there’s never a feeling of disjointment or as if the longer songs were cobbled together in any way.
Overall, Häxanu has triumphed again, and this is yet another stellar record for Alex Poole’s ever growing catalog of outstanding and innovative black metal. My only real complaint is that the band left me wanting more, and while the record is distinct enough from the debut, the band are still treading the same path they set out for themselves, but that doesn’t mean this path is worth treading. If you enjoy black metal that’s melodic and atmospheric, but also intense and raw, Häxanu is the band for you, and Totenpass is an easy recommendation.
Best tracks: 'Thriambus - Threnoidia', 'Sparagmos', 'Totenpass'
Rating: 9 out of 10822