Album Title: Invicta
Label: BMH Audio
Date Of Release: 20 April 2018
If you will allow me to be blunt, I must confess that I didn’t really like this record much at all when I first listened to it. I felt that it was a little bit ‘meh’ to be honest. It didn’t grab me like I hoped it would, certainly given the description applied to the band by the esteemed Prog Magazine.
“Think Queen having a barney with Dream Theater as Rush and Iron Maiden duke it out on the sidelines!”
I was thoroughly disappointed with what I heard. It lacked immediate melody, panache and that intangible je ne sais quoi. Or so I thought. Not content to shelve this record after such a short period of time, I persevered when perhaps I wanted to listen to something else. Such is my commitment to my website, my readers and the bands themselves. And my decision has paid off handsomely. There remain a few aspects of ‘Invicta’ that I’m less keen on but, by far and away, my overriding feelings towards this record are positive.
At the very centre of my affections is not the fifteen-minute epic penultimate track, ‘The Devil’s Coin’ as you might think. Instead, the highlight as far as I’m concerned and the reason why this album finally started to click into place is the superb ‘Line In The Sand’.
Situated around the midway point of the record, this near-ten-minute composition is a quieter, moodier and more atmospheric piece than what’s gone before it. The opening few moments are shrouded in synth-led electronic ambience. It then gives way to a delicate guitar melody with Matt Young’s voice imperious above it, commanding the proceedings with a restrained but rich delivery; easily one of his best performances on the album. The melody is actually rather poignant and emotional, catching me off-guard occasionally, especially as it is gently and smoothly built upon. There is sufficient space for the drums (Kirk Brandham) and bass (Matt Young) to create an interesting rhythmic spine, only to become more elaborate as the song meanders almost effortlessly into a more progressive and indulgent instrumental segment at the midway point.
All of a sudden, the song shifts again, this time returning to the opening melody upon which the guitar is allowed to take flight. It begins tentatively, but builds to offer a majestic and spine-tingling extended solo, full of feeling and underlining the greater emotion contained within the composition as a whole. It is then brought to a close via an impactful, highly-charged crescendo, once again giving me chills in the right way.
However, in what appears to be true Hekz style, it is impossible to say that the aforementioned song is typical of the music on ‘Invicta’. That’s because, as the Prog Magazine quote implies, Hekz are not ones to sit back and deliver an album’s worth of similar, repetitive music. Far from it. Indeed, each of the ten tracks on this record has a very different feel to it. There are threads that run through the record that are unmistakably Hekz, such as an unmistakeable theatricality and a healthy, unreserved respect of the greats of 70s and 80s prog. However, built around these core principles are plenty of other ideas and experimentation that keep us listeners on our toes. In fact, this could well be the most diverse and ambitious Hekz release to date, and that’s saying something!
That said, ‘For Our Lives’ is easily the most accessible and straight-forward sounding song on ‘Invicta’. The chorus is huge with a capital ‘H’ with hooks galore. In fact, it’s the song I now find myself singing around the house or first thing in the morning when I wake. I certainly hear a touch of Dream Theater in it, via the keys of James Messenger, as well as a lead guitar solo that has a definite 80s, Gun ‘N’ Roses et al vibe.
By contrast, ‘The Light Fantastic’ is an urgent, up-tempo and relatively complex composition. The opening segment is intriguing with plenty of different textures and an interesting time signature. The riffs courtesy of guitarsits Al Beveridge and Tom Smith are powerful, whilst Young deploys several vocal deliveries. If I’m honest, I’m not a fan of his higher-pitched tones, which are so high-pitched that they make my eyes water. Nevertheless, the ambition demonstrated within the song is impressive as it flits from idea to idea in the blink of an eye.
Not content with the variety they have already offered, ‘Ultimatum’ takes the UK quintet into yet more new territory. After a quiet, contemplative start, Hekz decide to dabble with the djent subgenre via a couple of heavy and rather arresting riffs. I’m reminded of latter day Haken at this point, which can only be a good thing in my opinion. Again, the melodies that emerge after a few spins are wonderful, as are the guitar solos and keyboard sounds that bathe large parts of the track.
It may not be my favourite song, but the epic 15-minute ‘The Devil’s Coin’ is undeniably a very strong affair. And when I say ‘epic’, I mean it – this song is bristling with different ideas, moving between each sequence with a deftness and confidence that’s impressive. And despite the multitude of textures, tempos and varying levels of heaviness and intensity, the composition retains cohesiveness, assisted by some strong melodies and a genuine flow.
Despite the sticky start and a persistent niggle or two, I have grown to really like ‘Invicta’. It is so gratifying to know that there are still some bands here in the UK who are flying the flag for proper progressive music, the kind that is both challenging and ultimately accessible with a little effort. It is a difficult skill to master, but with ‘Invicta’, Hekz have ably demonstrated that they are more than up to the task.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse