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Hypno5e Finds “A Distant (Dark) Source,” Makes it Close and Real

a distant dark source

It is curious that Hypno5e has not seen more coverage over the years. After all, they were one of the first bands signed to The Ocean’s vanity label Pelagic Records. That other group was, and is, a critical darling with a non-zero commercial success to boot, producing rich and complex progressive metal that blends enough influences to not really sound like a clone of anybody. One might think that them giving another group the rub the way they have for Hypno5e would translate to more immediate attention. And yet, it hasn’t.

Perhaps this is because, prior to A Distant (Dark) Source, Hypno5e played a critically taboo mixture of ideas themselves. While they call themselves cinematic metal, a term that can’t help but bring to mind Luca Turilli’s similar “film score metal” genre title, the way this is achieved is a bit less ambiguous than a mere gesture to epicness. The track lengths are there of course, girthy and full, but it’s a fullness that comes from a bevy of ideas rather than just grinding out the same riff in perpetuity. There are, of course, standard progressive metal tropes aplenty, from shred to odd times to a slow unfurling of themes and elaborations, but there are also post-metal riffs and structures, some tremolo picking and blasts evoking either black or death metal for spice, and lengthy ambient sections paired with sampled or recorded spoken word. These are, of course, not critically taboo; by this point, more critically-lauded records contain them than don’t.

The issue arises when, one hand, this mixture sounds quite a bit like the aforementioned group The Ocean, to the degree that if there was a vocalist shift, you could very likely get away with crediting these records to that other creatively slower-paced group and few if any would bat an eye. This on its own would not be insurmountable, especially given that groups like Gojira for example quite proudly wear their primary influences on their sleeves to no major detriment. The second nail is one of the naughtiest words in underground metal: djent.

Hypno5e’s previous work, in fairness, doesn’t not lean as heavily on the highly-compressed stop-start odd-time riffing over steady china cymbal beats as others. Comparing lengths of djent passages to other sonic spaces on the record, to the lengths of the tracks they are in, or to the albums as a whole generate the same fact, which is that it too is merely a spice and should not condemn them to the same pile as groups more tightly bound to that style. But the psychic stain remains; while they have undoubtedly produced quality material, it is hard to imagine a Periphery comparison exciting someone primarily into heady avant-garde metal. But this too must be balanced against the fact that we have had groups find more satisfying blends of the ideas of djent, a sub-genre which even its creators rightly argue should at its best not be a genre but a description of a specific technique for a specific type of riff akin to how we use terms like blast beat and tremolo riff. Groups like TesseracT and Animals as Leaders have found inventive ways to bury ideas developed in that genre space and apply them as motifs, variations, or connective tissue rather than the primary building block of their material, aligning it more closely with progressive rock for the former and heavy jazz-fusion for the latter, both to rising critical success in the same circles a group like Hypno5e seems to want to penetrate.

Which is what makes A Distant (Dark) Source such a satisfying record. Because it is here that the group — one which had long ago developed a firm control of long-form pacing, had tasty riffs for days, could develop a heady and emotionally rich sonic palette organically, and could incorporate ambiance and spoken word interludes and extreme metal riffs and prog flourishes within their broader post-metal framework — finally gets the balance of djent elements just right. A Distant (Dark) Source is five songs over eleven tracks, the middle three being broken into movements, and each features a similar blend of sonic ideas. This is, ultimately, acceptable; post-metal ironically works best when each song has memorable riffs and melodies but hews closer to a central aesthetic shape, at least album to album, given that the genre is predicated on inducing that powerful kind of psychic flowstate over a listening period’s length.

Hypno5e are well-practiced in producing unified album-length experiences and show that practice here well; deep grooves shift into a low death metal-aligned tremolo picked riff backed by a blast beat before hitting the perfect chord to suddenly splash out into an ambient section which then roils and murmurs for minutes before a spoken word sample builds the track back into a metallic intensity. These moves are not unique to the group or to this record, but they are moves that work, and when the riffs are as solid as they are here, especially considering the pleasurable interjection of djent ideas as a way to punch up certain sections and keep them from feeling repetitious, it doesn’t matter much whether this is the most unique set of ideas on the planet.

This aligns A Distant (Dark) Source with Cult of Luna’s latest record A Dawn to Fear in a complementary way. Post-metal as a genre is now decades old, with its chief forerunners in things like the early works of Godflesh are older still. As such, while pushing a genre form forward is admirable, there are also now many, many years of excellent ideas to use and develop into satisfying material. Pop has long been built on the same handful of chordal ideas; metal subgenres are almost entirely predicated on what one single musical idea they will employ in every single track; even jazz is driven mostly by repeating forms and not in fact by constant pure invention. So seeing two groups within the field of post-metal, one a long-time stalwart like Cult of Luna and another a younger but much more conceptually and sonically modern group like Hypno5e — each focusing not so much on utterly unheard of ideas but rather mastering the finer points of composition, pacing, and developing strong emotional and conceptual throughlines between not just the lyrics on the page but the notes and timbres deployed and blended in the tracks — is both affirming of the value of close study of those components and of the fruits for doing so.

A Distant (Dark) Source is not the greatest post-metal record of the year (that would be the aforementioned A Dawn to Fear) nor the most purely inventive (the honor of which goes to Sumac and free jazz/improvisation guitarist Keiji Haino’s second collaboration Even for just the briefest moment / Keep charging this “expiation” / Plug in to making it slightly better). But, importantly, it is a very good record, one which shares a conceptual and sonic shape with Dodheimsgard’s A Umbra Omega but without the same level of attention from certain spaces.

The album is surely worth your time, an hour of compelling music that develops well and, by its liner notes, is the second disc of a double-disc album with the first yet to come. Such an intriguing and pleasing record releasing this late in the year by a group that seems already to fly under the radar of many runs the risk of being lost in the frenzy of year-end lists and decade retrospectives. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.

A Distant (Dark) Source released last Friday via Pelagic Records.

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