Sutekh Hexen are a blackened noise outfit from San Francisco, California, which sounds simple enough. ‘Blackened’—we all know what that means. Frenetic tremolo riffing, evil intent, and astringent vocals. And ‘noise’—that’s also easy to define. Gloriously harsh and atonal cacophonies. It seems like a basic equation, but as with any acquired taste, and Sutekh Hexen are definitely one of those, you’ll be savoring the essence and textures long after the last bite.
Emerging from what must have been a grotesque chrysalis in 2010, the band released a series of demos and EPs before their debut full-length, Luciform, was birthed in 2011. Their sound, a battering mix of raw black metal and quarrelsome noise, was unremittingly challenging. Aesthetically, the band inhabit a somewhat preternatural abyss, one shared by bands with an abhorrence of easy classifications.
Yes, Sutekh Hexen are swathed in blackened textures, and noise clearly underscores it all. But they exhibit a longing to shove aside lazy preconceptions. Noise is undoubtedly the substrata, the lode being mined, but the layering on of field-recordings, thick atmospheres and intense frequencies are not acts of simple confrontation. They are a medium. A ritual. A ceremonial rite. Where the heaping of bodies (or in this case, sounds) upon the pyre, aims to induce an abreactive or transcendent release.
Larvae, the band’s new release for always interesting label Handmade Birds, finds Sutekh Hexen’s trio of Kevin Gan Yuen (guitars, electronics and field samples), Scott Miller (guitars, vocals, electronics and tape loops) and Lee Camfield (extra electro-acoustic manipulations), joined by Dwid Hellion****and Thomas Rodahl Dedekam on vocals. Mastered by James Plotkin, the album represents a realignment for the band. That’s not to suggest they ever stumbled off the track, but where their previous work was frenzied and ceaselessly barbarous, Larvae suggests some nefarious cartography has occurred, and new reference points have been drawn up.
Luciform was chaos incarnate. The album was a pitch-black vortex of noise, feedback, fractured electronics and disintegrating riffs. Luciform was death, and an agonizing one at that. The album, and everything Sutekh Hexen had released beforehand, suggested they dealt in decomposition and wanton deconstruction. But something’s changed in the firmament. Where once torrents of fury would have descended unhindered, Larvae‘s three expansive tracks offer a glimpse of luminosity, albeit heavily shadowed. What was an opaque and foreboding maelstrom has been lit by the spark of transformation.
Nine-minute opening track,” Isvar Savasana”, begins with a creepy scuttle. Who knows what the sound really is? It matters little, and to define it would take away its essential eeriness. The darkened ambience of the song’s first third laboriously transforms. As effects swirl, whatever unnerving peace was established is punctured by blackout washes of distorted riffs and vocals howling into the void. And then it ceases. Any sense of tension is stripped away, before another corrosive wash arrives to despoil your countenance
It’s all there. Right on the first track. The hellish yet blissful transmogrification of the band’s sound as it becomes more than violence, more than hostility. Where once caustic waves engulfed you, they now guide you. Where once the blackness of the abyss threatened to overwhelm you, there’s a pause. It’s a pointer to where you’re headed, and throughout the album there exists a thread of openness, an unveiling of elements that encourage the unification of disorder and metamorphosis. Perhaps the clue is in the album’s title itself—is this evolution in action?
“Lead Us in Warfare”, the album’s second track, crawls through its five minutes with inflammatory might. Awash in a skeletal industrial finish, it plunges into the depths and mires of mechanized horror with a propulsive, disfiguring drone. It sets up the final track magnificently, its helical wrack and ruin offering a heavily weighted counterpoint to the acoustic-based majesty of “Let There Be Light”. This song, underscored by more of the sinisterly scuttling field recordings, is the album’s true highlight. The smothered vocals remain tantalizingly just out of reach, adding to the ominous tone as the guitar, playing an almost folk-like coda, pushes forth. Then the climax eventually arrives, and everything that has come before is destroyed by savage wails and a tumult of abrasive dissonance.
Although sonic changes have occurred on Larvae, there has not been a lessening of the band’s sprit or ethos. If anything, Sutekh Hexen have simply highlighted their persona even further. There still exists that relentless dragging of claw and spiteful aura, and while the overt brutality may have lessened, there is nothing on Larvae to suggest the band has been tamed in any way. Sutekh Hexen are as monstrous as ever, but this time they’ve laid out more easily consumed bait. You’re still going to get hurt, you’re still going to suffer, and when it’s all over you’ll thank them for it. I’m glad they struck a match; the radiance they’ve brought to Larvae has only illuminated the hell mouth. It’s up to you to walk in.
**Larvae will be released on February 21st, 2012. Available on digipack CD and vinyl from Handmade Birds. **