Kevin Hufnagel’s “Separations” Ties Together the Past and Present
Like a dream within a dream, Kevin Hufnagel’s latest solo effort Messages To The Past floats like clouds over the horizon. Though shredding at times, the totality is one of pure smoothness, directed by Hufnagel’s pension for emotion. An instrumental workout inspired by the guitarist’s musical roots, the record is an echo in the darkness: a light wavering in the wind.
Classical music is Hufnagel’s architectural foundation. Before heavy metal entered his world, he was shown the dark side by Edvard Grieg, the Norwegian Romantic-era composer.
“I was really drawn to [Edvard Grieg’s] Peer Gynt suites, a record in my mother’s collection,” Hufnagel notes. “It was the ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ suite in particular that grabbed me (in addition to the terrifying artwork on the album jacket). Anyone who’s heard that piece knows it’s pretty damn ‘metal.’ That combination of spooky imagery and dark melody would have a life-long lasting effect.”
Messages To The Past reflects a similar duality. Through layers of varying technique, sections bend and consume, wavering in melancholy and dipping in sunshine, an organic offering twofold. Compared to Hufnagel’s previous solo albums, Messages To The Past — while airy and spiritual — is more a straightforward take. It’s a note on simplicity and homage.
“I had done a string of solo albums where my aim was to basically deconstruct and disguise all traces of my guitar tracks,” he says. “I felt as though I had exhausted those ideas for a while. The only thing to do next was the exact opposite: [to] make something where the guitar was natural and raw.”
Originally conceived to be a collection of ballads, Hufnagel added some starker compositions to fill the landscape with sharper edges. Something of a journey takes shape: physical and mental walls collide. There is a sense of honor, and a hard strain of personality.
“I wrote tunes like ‘Pulse Controller,’ ‘Through the Neon Forest,’ and ‘Circling the Grave’ to give the album more arches,” he explains. “I keep thinking of this album as the record I might’ve made back in high school, had I had the ability and experience I have now. I drew from players who had made the earliest, deepest and most lasting impressions on me. I then looked to twist those influences in a way that was more my own voice and not just some retro retread.”
Thus, you get dimensional scorches, a la Randy Rhodes and Andy LaRocque, combined with flamingo, jazz, and avant-garde sequence; and you get used to the ride, drifting like a star about the diamonds of the night. The diversity of the record — while achieved within definite parameters — is what makes it special. Hufnagel is part of a New York City underground scene particularly adept at combination and musical looseness. He currently plays in Gorguts (Quebec), Dysrhythmia, Byla, Vaura, and Sabbath Assembly, all groups that bend convention. Making shape of a total vault of influence is what heightens these band’s convictions.
“There is a healthy amount of crossover here in NYC between the extreme metal/music scene and the worlds of avant-jazz, noise, and classical,” Hufnagel says. “Many of the people best known in those different circles have backgrounds in the other, to some extent. The coolest thing to me about the scene here is that it doesn’t feel competitive; rather, everyone’s pushing or motivating each other creatively in a positive way. At the same time, no one sounds like the other. You don’t find that kind of energy and productivity just anywhere.”
Though completely instrumental, Messages To The Past has a definitive voice: a narrative achieved through communication and pinnacle. For each sensation of guitar, a story without words is set, a journey through space and time — the past, the future, and the very present — fusing within a complete whole.
“I usually tell my guitar students to ‘think like a vocalist’ when they are composing or improvising their solos or melodies,” Hufnagel notes. “Lyrics can of course be abstract and open to interpretation, but instrumental music even more so. That’s always intrigued me. This could subliminally go back to that first impression Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites made on me as a child. Music at that time was a mystery and purely a sensation. I was free to see what I wanted to see and feel what I wanted to feel, before I knew much about the depths of language.”
Dive deep into Messages To The Past; release yourself into a world of dreams.
Messages To The Past will be released by Translation Loss Records on June 29th. Listen to an exclusive premiere of “Separations” below.
Follow Kevin Hufnagel on Bandcamp.