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Hexvessel: Iron Marsh

Best Underground nominees continue to enthral

Displaced Englishman Mat McNerney and his band of Finnish troubadours have forged quite a hot buzz of late, with two full-length albums (and a Roadburn-exclusive seven-inch) of assiduously arcane flower power psych folk, and this beguiling octet are one of those completely non-metal bands that end up inextricably attached to the metal scene as the chill-out vibe of choice for wasted longhairs coming down from a night of headbanging debauchery. But Hexvessel are much more than that.

Although folk-challenged metallers may compare it to the quieter moments of Opeth or Witchcraft, they possess a distinctiveness, ambition, eccentricity and radiant musicality that sets them way above the usual jangly Viking campfire fare – and a rare sense of immersive engagement with their own singular sylvan muse.

Iron Marsh is a 35-minute EP – not much shorter than last year’s acclaimed breakthrough opus No Holier Temple – and while it functions as a handy companion piece to that album, it also sounds more dense and robust, with a wider scope and greater (though discreet) use of electronic sounds, perhaps a little more harmonically advanced and less obsessed with striking a twee, rustic hippy pose.

It’s still defiantly rooted in the Age Of Aquarius freak zone of course; witness the 13-minute opener Masks Of The Universe, building from an apocalypse-jazz drone through a nervy labyrinth of mellow spacey psych, or the nifty cover of Yoko Ono’s 1973 tune Woman Of Salem with Purson’s Rosalie Cunningham, rendered accessible and benign with languid wah-wah and sublime duetting male/female harmonies.

Throughout these five songs there’s a captivating warmth and irresistible hook-driven melodic flair at play, confirming Hexvessel’s special status and nudging them further up the developmental ladder towards a keenly anticipated apotheosis.