REVIEW: Hexed – Pagans Rising

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Ah, Sweden… how many more wonderful gifts do you still have for the metal community? For most metalheads, this should be a rhetorical question as many of today’s top-tier bands come from this county. Add HEXED to your list, as this symphonic progressive metal band hails from the city of Uppsala. Active since 2015, the band released their debut album, “Netherworld,” in March 2018 and now they are back with their sophomore effort, “Pagan Rising,” which was finally released on September 30th, 2022, via ViciSolum Records.

The dense melodies and the powerful vocal deliveries make for a very thick soundscape that doesn’t really leave any breathing room – which is a bit taxing on the ears – but once you get accustomed to this onslaught of melodies and instrumentals, the songs start to become a bit more appealing. There’s also no denying that lead vocalist Tina Gunnarsson has one hell of a resonant voice and she’s not afraid to unleash its full power whenever necessary, while Stellan Gunnarsson’s harsh vocals only make the songs on which he sings that much more robust and chunky. If some aspects of this record might draw comparisons to the likes of EPICA, NIGHTWISH, or WITHIN TEMPTATION, these are quickly put to rest by Tina’s gritty vocals. Opening duo of songs “Pagans Rising” and “Resurrection” perfectly showcase this heavier and darker new sound that HEXED has developed, boasting guitar riffs of the chugging variety, symphonic orchestrations, and thunderous drums, capped off by wicked-sounding vocals.     

Things get somewhat more melodic from “Stigma Diaboli” onward but still not really reaching the levels of melody that the Swedish metal scene is known for, settling instead for delivering copious amounts of heaviness. This aspect actually brings to mind EVERGREY’s latest studio effort, “A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament),” which follows a similar formula of being heavy on the instrumental side but light on the melodic part. However, unlike Tom Englund and co.’s album, which ultimately balances itself out with the last couple of songs, “Pagans Rising” is relentless in its heavy and packed soundscape. As such, tracks like “Repentance” and “Prophecy” are quite linear in their delivery of hefty guitar lines, pounding drums, and a back-and-forth between cleans and growls. On the other hand, the likes of “Symphony of Tragedy,” “Incantation,” and “Dark Storm” try to break this massive wall of sound with underlying synths, hooky choruses, and rather good melodies, but the high-strung drums keep a tight rhythm that fills every possible space. The fact that the tempo is kept at a high level for most of the album’s almost 50-minute playtime doesn’t help things much.

If you’ve reached this point in my review and you’ve come to the conclusion that I might not really enjoy this album because I am only pointing out how linear it sounds, let me reassure you that, despite all these nit-pickings, I am actually digging (parts of) it. The only problem is that I prefer more variety and more tempo changes in my metal, which this album doesn’t offer. Other than that, the high-octane guitar riffs, intricate rhythmic patterns, and roaring vocals are some of the album’s strengths, as HEXED show off their technicality with ease and confidence. In this respect, one of the best songs on the album is “Stigma Diaboli,” as it offers a marvelous chorus section, an interesting solo moment, symphonic elements galore (especially strings and choirs), and an ebb-and-flow movement that keeps things moving along at a great pace. Other highlights include the duet “Blasphemy” and closing piece “Moorfield,” which show just how theatrical and, respectively, dramatic things can get if only there was room enough for the melodies to develop to their full potential, while the more traditional “Incantation” boasts one of the best solos on this album.

All-in-all, in their effort to show the metal community they are not a band to be taken lightly, HEXED deliver an album that relies a bit too much on progressive metal complexities while their symphonic metal side takes more of a backseat to all of this technicality. Consequently, “Pagans Rising” is a relentless downpour of all things hard and heavy that will have more serious metalheads headbanging with a big grin on their faces. As for me, while I do appreciate the skill involved in making an album of this caliber, I still wish for more diversity and balance in the album’s soundscape.

Written by Andrea Crow

Tracklist

  • Pagans Rising
  • Resurrection
  • Stigma Diaboli
  • Repentance
  • Incantation
  • Prophecy
  • Symphony of Tragedy
  • Blasphemy
  • Dark Storm
  • Moorfield

Line-up

Tina Gunnarsson – lead vocals
Stellan Gunnarsson – guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals
Daniel Håkansson – bass
David Nyman – guitars
Patrick Wahlberg – drums

Label

ViciSolum Records

Links

Website     |     Facebook     |     Instagram     |     Bandcamp     |     ViciSolum Records