Hagel ‒ Veneration of the Black Light Review

The African elephant has the longest known gestation period of any animal on our Blue Dot at about 645 days, which isn’t too far away from rounding up to an even two years. It takes those adorable little calves that long to plop out of mommy, be ready to follow the herd, learn the best spots for water, and figure out which animals definitely are not friends.

The African elephant has nothing on Mexico’s Hagel, who was formed way back in 1995 but never put an album out. Like a good trunking to the bum, original members Carlos Velázquez and Luis Galindo found motivation to get back together in 2014, bring along a few other folks, and finally record and release their first proper album. The bad part about taking so long: writers use it to come up with silly angles using elephant calves and their adorably floppy ears (I mean, look at that little fella). The good part: sometimes all that time leads to something fully formed.

In Hagel’s case, their sound is both fully formed and seemingly trapped in the original time it was conceived. Veneration of the Black Light isn’t just easily comparable to some 90s styles ‒ chief among them classic doom/death and the early, less busy side of Hellenic black metal ‒ but the production seems lifted from that era as well. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to replicate, seeing as how a lot of the old school tones we love were kind of accidental as people were still figuring out how to replicate such sounds on record.

Release date: May 21, 2021. Label: Personal Records.
Like several of their influences, there’s something rather naked about Hagel’s sound from the top on down. The lead vocals are haggard and unrefined, carrying a tortured aspect without ever delving into melodrama. The riffs are almost entirely understated, at times doing an 8th/16th harmonized thing ‒ often with two guitarists, and sometimes with the bassist involved ‒ but more often playing the types of slowly developing melodies familiar to fans of such albums as Dance of December Souls, and always with a relatively lower gain sound. Even with some extra touches like washes of synths, acoustic passages, or piano adding a gothic flair, Veneration of the Black Light still has a barrenness to its sound that is both a little bleak and yet rather beautiful. It often sounds like a combination of that aforementioned Katatonia album and something like Varathron’s His Majesty at the Swamp, particularly in the mood department.

The record is also in absolutely no hurry. Even when the riffs speed up to full tremolo activity (“Labyrinth of Flesh”) or provide the slightest bit of hefty bombast (“Mystery of the Mortal”), Hagel isn’t exactly putting the foot on the gas or being brash in any way (the performances are all extremely pro but also rather slight). The music often drifts with the simple melodies, only picking up the pace at very select moments. A tune like “The Blazing Glow of Eternity” adds a bit of drama in its riff, tempo, and key sound variety, but more often than not the album finds its best quality through the simpler things. Instrumental “Pergamum,” for example, adds a little speed about halfway through, but it’s the contrast of the slowly driving doom riffs and washes of keys earlier that really make it an album highlight.

For the original members of Hagel still in the band, the mere existence of Veneration of the Black Light is probably viewed as a huge achievement, but it’s definitely more than just a moral victory. From the tones and melodies to the deliberate pace and overall mood, the album absolutely nails the sound(s) of a particular era of metal history. Its ironically quick 38 minutes ought to find some eager ears among the types of gloomy folks that prefer their slow heavy metal delivered with a particularly deft touch. Some listeners will likely prefer something with a little more oomph or impact, but that’s really not this band’s game. Like many of their influences, Hagel is all the better because they never outstep their bounds in terms of songwriting, production, or performances.

Posted by Zach Duvall

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; Obnoxious overuser of baseball metaphors.

  1. This does sound like a doom-death gem from the early 90s that was just unearthed from a dank castle. This is super ‘retro’–but in a natural way–they arent trying to be so. Still, its a very unusual metal record for 2021. I totally dig it.

    Speaking of bands from 1995, any chance you guys will review the new album by Gorgon?


    1. Not sure anyone is taking on the Gorgon. Glad you like the Hagel though! Kinda took me by surprise. Ryan is the one that told me to return to it after I initially kinda ignored it among all the countless stuff that comes in. NAILS that old vibe to the point that it sounds like it’s long lost stuff from the 90s.


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