Appearances are often deceiving. The cover of Hyperboreans‘ Numina contains esoteric symbols and song titles like “Vajra” and “Ezekiel,” promising an introspective or, perhaps, ritualistic piece. It begins with an eloquent piano piece, only to be followed by a guitar and drum beat that is immediately forgettable. As the first song “Eth Ael” ends with the piano and it flows into the next track, I hope that something of great interest will happen—a hope that is at first rewarded. It was here that I was met with a trip-hop beat and vocals that are unbelievably reminiscent of Ulver. Here is where my excitement began; perhaps the first track was just a poor intro, there is hope yet. The thing about being a skeptic though is that every time you think maybe this time will be different, the disappointment stings that much more.
I will just come right out and say it: it wasn’t long thereafter that Numina irreversibly left me with visions of men with fancy moustaches, ridiculous beards, a worn copy of Nausea by Sartre in hand, and an Actual Pain t-shirt that is so tight, if they lift their arms it rips. The formula to “The Music Underneath” is promising, but the title achieves an unintended and problematic irony for it is what is actually underneath the music is not deep enough to achieve its intention. While the rhythm and electronics behind “Varja” sound like they were created for a cliche tribal-fusion belly dance gathering, I still strove to find something redeemable about Numina to enjoy. Again and again, the music worked itself back to the piano, which were the only passages that I could describe as “moving” even though the attempts at experimenting during these sections were over-pursued and entirely unnecessary. Numina is simply unfulfilling, finding the right sounds yet not the right approach with which to place them.
In their own words, this is “heavy artsy fartsy experimental” music, reeking of the insincere NYC hipsterdom I accused them of earlier, but at least they are existentially aware of how they represent themselves. As they try and try again to do something interesting, I continuously find myself wishing that I had knowledge of some of the gadgets they used because it is their sculpturing of individual sounds that make Numina unique, but everything in the album is terribly disappointing as these elements come together into a whole. I honestly want to like Numina, but I don’t. It is not consistent enough, and seems to focus more on trying to impress with how interesting Hyperboreans think they are. It’s machine-like in that this is clearly music from the mind without any input from the heart. I am that Hyperboreans has been formed by exceptional musicians who are full of interesting ideas that on paper I should absolutely love, but when it comes to executing these concepts in the studio, they simply fall flat.
In the end, it is unforgivable that competent musicians with many of the right ideas in mind were inexplicably unable to deliver on what turned out to be a promising but ultimately disappointing album. Numina simply suffers terribly from a combination of anonymity, the band’s tendencies towards vague symbology and nondescript meanings, and that all-too-familiar trap that so many artists in this scene fall into: the inane need to constantly experiment just for the sake of doing so when all of the right elements are already in place to make a solid effort.
01) Eth Ael
02) The Music Underneath
04) An Invocation
05) Ghost Box
07) The River at the End of the World