When I think of Hypno5e, I think of mist. Their music is all about dark atmosphere and hidden danger, like stumbling blindly through thick fog, terrified that the dark shadows all around you will engulf you or explode into life without warning. It’s no accident that their 2012 release was titled Acid Mist Tomorrow, or that the cover for their new release features a lone figure walking deeper into a smoky, twilight landscape- the music within shares the same sense of expansiveness and claustrophobia, boldness and uncertainty. Hypno5e have spent their past two albums refining and exploring their signature “cinematic metal” style; blending crushingly heavy guitar riffs and icy atmospherics with experimental song structures, traces of Latin music and snippets of spoken word in French and English. If you were to think that’s a very, very strange mix then you’d be right, but Hypno5e manage to blend it all together to create haunting, unearthly soundscapes more akin to horror soundtracks than typical songs. Their singular approach has always been fascinating and has yielded some spectacular results, but also some moments of real frustration as their disparate ideas occasionally struggle to gel into workable, memorable songs. Having spent the last couple of weeks lost in the mists of Shores of the Abstract Line I’m happy to report that not only does it blow all previous Hypno5e releases out of the water in terms of quality and consistency, it pushes their demented sound further into unknown territory, and the result is an early front runner for album of 2016.
The album opens and closes with sombre piano and those creepy, crackly voice clips Hypno5e use so well. The music in between jumps back and forth from ferocious, technical death metal to forlorn, menacing prog drenched in atmosphere; exploding, collapsing and dissipating with bipolar suddenness. Their heavy moments combine the jagged, dissonant riffs of Meshuggah with black metal fury and brief bursts of darkly beautiful melody. The softer sections are just as intense, built around deep echoing piano and melodic basslines, over which flickering clean guitar and sheets of frosty keyboards hang like spider’s webs. The music is brutally heavy but carefully crafted- relying on shifts in dynamics and an ear for creepy melodic progression for effect rather than sheer power. Like all of Hypno5e’s work this is definitely an album to take in as a whole but each song has its own character as part of the bigger whole. Opening epic “East Shore- In Our Deaf Lands” features the strongest djent influence of the album, opening in dramatic fashion with a salvo of fast, complex riffs and squealing harmonics, but that’s only one side of its attack, which also includes haunting vocal melodies and brooding Opeth style clean guitar passages. “West Shore-Where we Lost the Ones” fares even better, delivering the same lumbering, monstrous riffs I loved on Acid Mist Tomorrow, along with Emmanuel Jessua’s signature strangled shrieks and the closest things to hooks you’re likely to find on a Hypno5e album. There are moments throughout that any metal fan can enjoy, like the proggy clean intro to “North Shore-The Abstract Line” which gives way to a frenetic barrage of stop-start riffs, or the touches of piano and symphonic strings that give the final climax of “South Shore-Blind Man’s Eye” real emotional impact. It’s also intensely cerebral; excerpts from Charles Bukowski poems are incorporated into long, oppressively technical tracks with very few repeated sections to latch onto. Deciphering the structure of these mammoth songs requires full concentration; easy listening this is not. It’s music that thrives on contrast- between seemingly incompatible sounds, between heavy and soft, frantic and resigned, ethereal and immediate. It’s a seemingly impossible balancing act but somehow Hypno5e make it work.
One element of the sound that’s never quite worked for me before was the Latin influences that crop up in the band’s guitar style and songwriting. On previous albums the long sections of Latin guitar and lyrics sung in Spanish seemed like one idea too many in an already dense and contradictory sound. These tendencies are still present on Shores but they fit into the overall sound much more successfully. The finger-picked guitar and charrango playing scattered throughout really adds to the reverent atmosphere of the album, but the most surprising moment comes halfway through the album in “Central Shore-Tio”. Entirely sung in Spanish and mostly acoustic, the song’s beautifully tragic melodies and Jessua’s astounding vocal performance make this the emotional high point of the album. The urgent, heart wrenching cries of “Tio!” have more impact than all the blastbeats and death growls in the world, even if like me you don’t understand the language at all.
The language issue is something that worries me about Hypno5e though- am I supposed to be fluent in three languages to fully comprehend the point of the album? Or is it deliberately opaque to let the listeners fill in the details themselves, like not letting you see the monster in a horror movie? In the end I think Shores of the Abstract Line is sophisticated enough as a piece of music that its emotional heart can be understood universally. The whole album is saturated in a deep, dreadful yearning and a longing for what has been lost. Greif and bitterness explode into rage and then fade to resignation, in a constant battle that plays out over and over without ever resolving. Jessua’s cries of “for years I’m falling, falling” at the end of “West Shore-Memories” sound like they carry the weight of a lifetime’s anguish, while his furious roars on the final two tracks are made to sound empty and futile by the desperate, suffocating loneliness of the music. I won’t pretend to fully understand the whole analogy of the different shores but themes of letting go and of crossing over into death are apparent, and by the final minutes there is a real sense of the end to a long journey, and of a weary resignation to whatever comes next.
Progressive or experimental music can often satisfy intellectually while affecting nothing on a deeper level, but Shores of the Abstract Line creates an overwhelming emotional response even if you don’t understand every nuance. It isn’t miserable or self pitying- there’s definitely beauty in the music, but it’s a sad, harsh beauty that somehow feels even more real because of its bitterness. Having discovered a songwriting consistency to match their uniquely twisted sound, Hypno5e have delivered an album that succeeds on every conceivable level. It’s not perfect- a few more repeated themes/sections and a slightly shorter run time would’ve worked wonders for ease of listening- but it’s damn close. Visceral, gut wrenching and deeply cathartic, Hypno5e’s masterwork is a landmark in extreme metal and a powerful testament to the strength of human desire and the dark, lonely shores it can lead us to.