Released: 2017, Einheit Produktionen
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Though they have been around for nearly 20 years, Czech Republic quartet Hypnos are a fairly unknown entity to most people outside of Eastern/Central Europe – myself included. With a seemingly more determined promotional push this time around, however, that may change.
Founded by former/current members of on-again, off-again Czech cult favorites Krabathor, Hypnos issued three albums in early 2000s, survived a three-hiatus, endured numerous lineup changes and toured sporadically. The Whitecrow, the band's fifth album and second since returning in 2009, should make for a fascinating introduction to those unfamiliar – again, myself included.
The album has something of a Native American vibe to it from the mystical narrations - courtesy of Master frontman and now Czech resident Paul Speckmann - about “healing the people from their decadence” and whatnot, spoken word passages, folksy interludes, symbolism and artwork - at least to these American ears/eyes. Yet even though it has nothing to do with early American lore – The Whitecrow's storyline, from what I can gather, was inspired by the plague doctors of the Middle Ages – the embellishments and imagery make for a compelling work when combined with the band's epic blackened death metal.
Hypnos never disguise there conceptual inclinations here, with the aforementioned narration and assorted intros and outros making for obvious connective tissue and the band providing lots of dramatic rises and falls as the story moves along. And while there is a deliberate, even painstaking, feel in the execution, uptempo tracks like “Sin Collector” and “Der Mordschlag” and the simmering groove of “About Trust” that is flavored by a choral flourish help keep things moving.
The music recalls, to one extent or another, Behemoth and Rebel Extravaganza-era Satyricon, in its grandiosity and vehemence – much of which comes from the tenacious growling of bassist/vocalist Bruno – and ably straddles the line between death metal and black metal most of the way. The Type O Negative-like gothy doom of “Too Dark To Shine, Too Young To Die,” with its strained, warbled clean vocals and shuffling pace, is the lone exception, and makes for a rather tepid – not to mention strange - finale, especially as it morphs into the acoustic outro “Humanized.”
But while it goes out with something of a fizzle, The Whitecrow is still pretty evocative, engrossing and sufficiently corrosive stuff. And with guests like Speckmann, Triptykon/Dark Fortress guitarist V. Santura and Krabathor bandmate Christopher lending a hand and giving it some additional cache – if only modestly – it's certainly worthy of attention, however much it can muster.