There’s a big difference between the words, ‘naked’ and ‘nekkid.’ ‘Naked’ means you don’t have any clothes on. ‘Nekkid’ means you don’t have any clothes on… and you’re up to something. – Lewis Grizzard
What in the name of early 2000’s symphonic goth metal is going on with the cover here? If Germany’s Hexenbrett were striving for some kind of reaction with the image of a contorted nude baby doll, they got a strong one: cringe. It seems so edgelord in the most juvenile sense of the word. Especially after having some pretty cool artwork on their demo last year, and then even cooler art for the reissue picked up by their current label in early December. What happened here?
But the cover for Zweite Beschwörung: Ein Kind Zu Töten (translated: Second Summon: Killing A Child) did evoke a memory. Much time of my wasted youth was spent in old, run down, decrepit areas, looking for places to skate, partake in a bit of the devil’s lettuce, or just poke around through run-down abandoned buildings and generally be Up To No Good. Oddly enough, a lot of these places in the area had a strange common factor: nekkid, twisted baby dolls left on the scene. The burned out bible college by the airport? Check. The strangely vacated long stay motel that was crumbling into ruins by the Catawba River? Check. The makeshift skatepark under the overpass in NoDa? Confirmed. Anywhere there were kids having fun away from authoritarian eyes, these things seemed to show up just as commonly as broken beer bottles and shitty graffiti. But none captured the imagination like the pile of these “bodies” found at the factory foundation in the woods off of Red Rock Road in Rock Hill. Set way off the roadways, these woods were home to the local legend any town probably has: that there were Satan worshippers that would hold rituals there in the wee hours of the morning. Furthering this yarn were the small mushroom-looking huts built even deeper in the woods; strange, rounded buildings, supposedly constructed without corners to keep that sneaky little Satan from hiding from sight.
Yet it’s the guitar solos that really drive the point home like a serrated knife through sacrificial flesh that Hexenbrett are using to carve out a unique corner of the early black metal sound. They don’t exactly fit with the typical atmosphere evoked from a retroactively first wave black metal album, popping up unexpectedly like those goddamn nekkid dolls and adding new dynamics to the music. The solos on “La Tumba De Los Muertos Vivientes” (translated, from Spanish, to “Tomb Of The Living Dead”) are the most fitting with the tone of the album, first lurking like a sinister beast in the shadows before unleashing a fast-paced chaotic ritual bleeding all over the song. The first full track on the album, “Lass Schlafende Leichen Ruhen” (German: “Let Sleeping Corpses Rest”), features soloing much in the classic Downing / Tipton style, rapidly trading off one another with a bit of fiery fingerwork. The entire song dynamic on “Spalovač Mrtvol” shifts to a more Mercyful Fate style riffing—complete with hi-hat shuffle—yet the solo is more laden with a classic rock sound, channeling more AC/DC than Shermann / Denner. The element of fun is juxtaposed against the dark bizarreness of the riffs, pounding in the point that makes first wave black metal so great: limitless potential, interpretation and re-interpretation. The surprisingly emotive guitar work expressed on the soloing for “Attraverso Sette Porto All’Inferno” (Italian translation: “Through The Seven Gates Of Hell”) nods to a bit of prog influence. Even further, the traditional metal soloing on “Les Requiem Des Vampires” (in French, this means “The Vampire Requiem”) weave those twin leads into an Iron Maiden-inspired galloping lead conclusion that bookends the record.
These little bits of unexpected fun flit and dart around the cloak of sinister black metal. The shrieks that open up “Attraverso Sette Porto All’Inferno,” for example. Or the piano that lightly suggests the changes into the solo, the aforementioned bells that pop up throughout the album, and the organ play on “Les Requiem Des Vampires.” The unsettling changes in vocal approach could, in any other context, be a victim of the “throw everything at it and see what sticks” approach. Yet each moment feels intentionally placed to serve the songs and the pacing of the record—all fitting against the backdrop of first wave black metal.
While much of the album is in Hexenbrett’s native German, as you may have noticed, there are linguistic nods to Italian, Polish, English, Spanish, Italian, and French: all countries with significant contributions to the classic black metal underground. Really, the only language that’s missing is Greek, considering the bits of early Varathron that can be found lurking in the corners of the band’s sound. While the song titles don’t necessarily line up to their respective influencers, Hexenbrett are pulling from so many influences that they carve their own sound, inspired by and yet defiant against the norms so arrogantly defined by those who took black metal as a rigid, frozen set of rules. It is the spirit of the almighty Teenager, who can’t help but have their view shaped by their elders, yet seeks to rebel against what it was told it should be. At times it can be comically immature, and the art on the cover surely reflects this tragic ideology. It’s adolescent, but in many ways Hexenbrett represents the adolescence of black metal, especially the first wave when everything was open to interpretation and free of stylistic constraint. Sure, the sound alone encompasses images of werewolves, bats, hounds, ghouls, witches, goblins, and all the furry creatures of the night. But lest we forget or lose sight of the spirit of the most immediate nocturnal beast: the Teenager Who Is Up To No Good. There’s a power in harnessing that youthful naivety and channeling it into creative energy, and that’s precisely what Hexenbrett is accomplishing on their debut album.