The cover art of They Ride Along, the full length debut from Austria’s Hagzissa, looks like a teenage scrawl on a piece of construction paper. This is no mistake. The figure ‒ arms out and heads down ‒ may as well be the Big Bad from Manos, only with Teeth of Fate instead of Hands. The huge eyes, vaguely occult scribbling, and wonky logo all complete the picture. This is the type of drawing a kid would make in class after a weekend spent discovering horror fiction as it existed in the 60s and 70s: slow burn, eerie, and quite often succeeding in spite of (or due to) budget constraints.
Label: Iron Bonehead Productions.
There’s an instant charm to Hagzissa’s music, largely created by the infectious nature of the riffing and belligerently banshee/goblin-ish and charismatic vocals. But there’s also an appealing warts-and-all quality that reemphasizes both the band’s affinity with low-budget horror and punk spontaneity. The drums sound like actual drums, there are smatterings of feedback, and sometimes the various forms of growls, screeches, and wails seem almost improvised and lackadaisical. Despite the bits of strings and spooky spoken word passage interludes, there remains a very un-fussed-over quality to the record. These are all good things.
Also adding to the punk-ish flavor is that Hagzissa seems truly driven by the rhythm section, meaning that ‒ in addition to the quality drumming ‒ the bass is actually a major factor and always very audible in the mix. Whether merely following the guitars an octave below or taking its own path (as in the title track), the bass adds more rumble and heft here than is typical in black metal, and the overall effect is that of warmth. But instead of hellfire, this is the warmth of cloaks and capes and hoods and candles and cauldrons.
The only thing really holding Hagzissa back is that They Ride Along is typically merely enjoyable, and only occasionally captivating. Only a couple tracks really reach out and grip the listener, chiefly “Moonshine Glance (Of Iron Seeds in Sour Soil),” which revolves around an utterly chilling half-tempo section that features more of the band’s ghastly wails, and “Atavist Kama / Aconite Trance,” which features a great, almost constant descent into madness before ending in a rockin’ mode as if to remind the listener that this is all in good fun. But hey, perhaps all a record like They Ride Along needs is a couple big anchors to hold it all down.
Overall this is catchy, charismatic, eerily theatrical black metal that has the potential to appeal to everyone from fans of Master’s Hammer and Faustcoven to Ride for Revenge and Lugubrum, just don’t expect it to sound exactly like any of those acts. Hagzissa is kind of doing their own thing, but just barely, and they already have a pretty good handle on their little micro-micro-micro niche. Hopefully this is merely the start of the fun.