Post-metal is a curious thing for me. It’s not a genre that I’ve actively pursued in my listening diet for at least a couple years, but the bands and albums I hear, I tend to love more often than not. My potential interest only multiplies when the genre is fused in part with black metal. Given that the two rank among the most atmosphere-centred subsets in metal, it’s altogether surprising that more artists haven’t opted for a fusion of them, keeping very much in mind that most of the stuff that gets labelled ‘post-black’ is sleepy blackgaze—a worthy avenue in its own right, but not at all derived from the atmospheric sludge sound post-metal tends to be synonymous with.
Poland’s Hegemone have seen it fit to tackle this potential stylistic goldmine with their 2014 debut Luminosity. Like my personal favourites Altar of Plagues (or, to a far less atmospheric extent, Tombs) Hegemone fulfill the expectations someone might have with either styles. There are many times throughout the album where I’m reminded of Cult of Luna, whose Somewhere Along the Highway arguably represents the best of what post-metal has to offer. The black metal influence is just as apparent; though the production might be a tad too meaty to warrant a direct comparison, the cold ambiance and fuzzy consonance of the Second Wave atmospheric bands can be felt on Luminosity. Without dwelling unnecessarily on the question of genre, it’s promising to hear a band this relatively early in their career, who have the confidence to blend styles without sounding the slightest bit contrived. Even for two genres as intuitively paired as post and black metal, no fusion comes without the need to make some choices. Clearly, Hegemone had the conviction to make the necessary compromises. In doing so, I think they’ve carved out a hefty sound for themselves.
While Hegemone aren’t quite as impressive with their composition as they are with the foundation and execution, they cover a solid amount of ground on Luminosity. ‘Diurnal’ opens with a shrieking hum (every time I listen to the album, I get the initial split-second impression that I’ve just put on a proper noise record) before diving into Hegemone’s most well-rounded fusion of styles. ‘The Hunt Within’ at first sounds like the band are going to highlight the riff-centricity of sludge, but it devolves into a more sombre atmospheric instrumental, highlighted by a strangely out-of-place layer of saxophone. The thirteen-minute closer, ‘XXXIX’, is arguably the strongest part of Luminosity; I’m reminded of the pummelling dirges many bands like Cult of Luna have used to bookend their own work.
While it only takes up a small part of the album’s length, I feel attention should be brought to the use of the aforementioned saxophone on Luminosity. Hegemone otherwise feel like young would-be masters with the applied craft of their sound, but throwing a sax into the mix feels awkward and pretentious. It’s not an issue of irreconcilable styles, but of the application itself; Ihsahn, for example, wrote in sax at the end of his third solo record After in a somewhat similar context and it sounded amazing. I only bring it up because Hegemone nail their execution otherwise.
Marcin Szpot has a perfect growl for this sort of music (once again, falling roughly dead centre between a black metal snarl and rough yowl typical of sludge); the aggression befits every avenue Hegemone have chosen to explore. Although what is being said is rarely so important in metal as how it is, I can’t help but feel disappointment that Hegemone’s lyrics (replete with ESL-variety grammar-bending) offer so little substance. A quick look at the CD booklet reads like a pedantic grocery list of orphaned thousand-dollar words. There are attempts at imagery, but the verses feel incredibly stunted. Hegemone switch gears by the final track, ‘XXXIX’, however; switching to their native Polish tongue, I imagine they have much better luck weaving a strong lyrical tapestry. The lyrics neither help nor hinder the practical listening experience, but it’s a worthy-enough issue to mention.
Barring the few aforementioned hiccups, Luminosity is a great kind of debut to hear from a young band. So many bands (including many that we now acknowledge as masters) begin their careers with only a notion of an idea of what they want to do, and even less of a grasp of how to do it. For Hegemone, the riffs aren’t quite memorable enough, or the build-ups climactic enough to have made their debut any sort of instant classic, but Luminosity nonetheless sounds like the work of artists with a mature grip of sound and style. It’s a rare thing to hear on a debut album, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hegemone impress me even more on any prospective follow-up material.
02) The Hunt Within
03) Away from the Sun