He began as the venomous black metal voice of Dødheimsgard (in Norway) and, later, Code (in…erm, Surrey), before scrapping the growl and heading to Finland to form psychedelic folk-proggers Hexvessel.
More recently, he dovetailed into gothic post-punk tunes with the excellent Beastmilk. But Beastmilk subsequently died and was reborn last year (not quite as successfully, we’d argue) as Grave Pleasures. Ultimately, however, the spiritual, darkly retro lure of Hexvessel came out on top for Mat ‘Kvohst’ McNerney.
As with the metal-turned-prog likes of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Jonas Renkse, it’s strange to imagine the melodious, present-day McNerney in his black metal days. Tonight, back with Hexvessel, he’s sounding more sonorous, less ‘black metally’ than ever. Is this really the same guy who started his career in a band called Vomitorium?
Sparse, organic introductory notes open steadily out into a fuller, lusher sound. New album When We Are Death dominates the set. It’s a more expansive work than their previous, 60s-rooted records, and is welcomed wholeheartedly by the crowd. McNerney is practically crooning on the melodic likes of Teeth Of The Mountain, complete with mournful trumpet layers from multi-instrumentalist Kimmo Helén, for a slightly Eastern European feel.
Not that their retro psych, intense spirituality or occult touches have gone. There’s still a nicely jerky old school prog presence; newbie Mirror Boy weaves a twisty tale of a Finnish town’s medium, while the witchy darkness of I Am The Ritual makes for the bleakest, most haunting folk imaginable.
McNerney himself, in a trilby and crescent moon-adorned cape (eventually removed to reveal a snazzy patchwork waistcoat), appears to have come straight from a Brothers Grimm fairytale. Or a mystical cave in the dark, chilly Finnish mountains.
Sweetly dedicating Hunter’s Prayer to his parents (in the audience tonight), McNerney manages to generate a pleasingly familiar, friendly atmosphere, amid his band’s introverted blend of earthiness and spacey otherworldliness. The gorgeous Cosmic Truth – framed with dreamy, Pink Floyd-style keys – is introduced as being about “True love, and spaceships” (based, rather poetically, on an actual experience of McNerney and his wife) while the hypnotic Sacred Marriage generates images of Nordic forests and pagan rituals.
It’s testament to the creative growth of Hexvessel that their triumphant, cheered closer is a new track – the wonderfully more-ish, yet enigmatic When I Am Dead. A strange yet very singalong-friendly note on which to end.