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Hexvessel: On When We Are Death and being genre-less

On their third release When We Are Death, Finnish five-piece Hexvessel have crafted a surprisingly upbeat and positive album, one that blends their black metal roots with dark psychedelia and 

Wimbledon to Helsinki may not be the most arduous of physical international journeys, but most musicians would find it too challenging for their creative and personal wellbeing. Yet it’s a relocation that’s been the making of Mat McNerney, the south London-born helmsman of rising Norwegian psych-folk-rock outfit Hexvessel.

The band’s new, third album When We Are Death has them leaving their deepest and most authoritative footprint yet, exploring the relatively uncharted territory in which erstwhile black metal tendencies are filtered through folk to create something strangely undefinable. And for McNerney, that’s mission accomplished.

“I just say it’s like psychedelic folk rock,” he tells Prog via a Skype call from his adopted home. “But it’s really hard, because when you say folk rock, it conjures up something quite horrible. You think about corduroys and brown shoes, and just this very adult, dad music, which it isn’t.

“I’d be quite comfortable with being genre-less, the way Swans or Current 93 are, groups like that. Not that we sound anything like them and I wouldn’t say we’re anything near as great as Swans, but I always try to think of what the genre is that we play, and I don’t figure it out. We do fit more into a progressive rock world because I’ve progressed out of the black metal scene, and the music we’re playing has lots of crossover elements to it.”

If the folk elements are less palpable on When We Are Death than they were on Hexvessel’s earlier voyages, notably 2011’s debut Dawnbearer, they’re still part of the mix for a songwriter who grew up on Paul Simon. That’s before he left the UK for assorted European adventures in Holland and Norway, then ‘finnished’ up where he is now. And we promise that will be the last pun on the subject.

“I lived in the Netherlands for a few years,” says McNerney. “I was kind of commuting over and back to Norway. I had a black metal band [Dødheimsgard] and then I eventually moved over here to Finland, and I’ve been here six or seven years.

“I felt like I was taking a jump into obscurity, but I wanted to be able to concentrate on the things I wanted in life. I’ve always had a struggle with line-ups and finding the right atmosphere, but the climate and the temperament here suits me very well, in terms of approaching music.

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