Henget – Beyond North Star Review

The debut album from Finland’s Henget is an attractive synthesis of styles that, while somewhat disjointed, fires with enough varied inspiration to remain compelling. The brainchild primarily of the improbably named King Aleijster de Satan (vocals/concept) and Jesse Heikkinen (music/guitars/keys), Beyond North Star does not sound quite as fully improvised as its press materials suggest, but does bear the hallmarks of a period of intense, fertile, yet impatient creation.

Henget’s line-up (on this recording completed by Ville Rissanen on drums and Lasse Launimaa on keyboards) plays a sort of orthodoxy-averse avant-garde black metal filled out by a love for texture and progressive rock. On album opener “Dive,” for example, the rhythm section intersperses hypnotic Hawkwind and Oranssi Pazuzu vibes with lashing waves of tremolo from Heikkinen’s guitar. Lead single “I Am Them” spends too much time in a modern Behemoth flailing chug, but when it pulls back into snaky, warbly clean guitar leads and sparse drumming, it feels much more unique and grounded.

One of the occasional stumbles of the album is that its best ideas are overshadowed by lackluster elements. On a song like “Lovi,” for example, the vocals are so omnipresent and monotonous that they end up crowding out some of the interesting stuff happening with the instrumentation. Similarly, “Henkivallat” dabbles in a playful, almost math rock-style rhythm, but in its midsection, just as the guitars and keys dive into a tight, spiraling counterpoint, the song undercuts itself by jumping abruptly into a dour sludge break-point.

Release date: May 19, 2023. Label: Season Of Mist.
When the vocals are slightly more restrained, they end up hitting all the more effectively (particularly when the hoarse bellow is changed out for some distant clean singing). At their best, they follow some of the same maniacal inclinations as Dodheimsgard, a throughline which is often mirrored in the tight, nervy guitar work and whiplash transitions. The keys play a prominent role throughout, sometimes dabbling in more vintage tones like a Hammond or mellotron, but often spooling out with a dramatic, neoclassical piano flair similar to early Arcturus or mid-period Dimmu Borgir.

The title track gets off to an excellent start, but around the two-minute mark splits into an awkward transition that gives way to an unappealing staccato passage. When that staccato section reappears later beneath a series of wandering, exploratory guitar solos, it works a little better, but passages like this feel like they could have used slightly more time spent honing the songwriting. “The Great Spiral” is one of the album’s best pieces in large part because it provides a bit more space for its ideas to develop, easing off the belligerence in favor of a more dynamic approach. In a similar positive vein, “Nouse” is a mostly instrumental, low-key piece that sets the stage for the excellent album closer, “The Chalice of Life and Death.” Under the distortion and barreling drums, the song’s main guitar/keys theme is actually a jaunty, jangly melody. A twisty, tone-fraying guitar solo in the midsection lends energy to an emphatic closing that pairs Rissanen’s tumbling drums with cosmic, symphonic keys to really stick the landing.

Despite its few flaws, Beyond North Star is an accomplished and engrossing album, following in a stylistic lineage that few bands these days are working to keep alive and press forward. For anyone with an interest in progressive and (non-antagonistically) avant-garde black metal, Henget is a band to watch.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

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