Hirngemeer: a surrealist experimental BM exploration of mental breakdown

Todesstoss, Hirngemeer, Italy, I, Voidhanger Records, CD IVR045 (2015)

I, Voidhanger Records is fast becoming the go-to extreme metal label for underground music on the verge of going alt-mainstream and “Hirngemeer” (a new word coined by the band and meaning “brain sea” in English, suggesting a complete mental collapse) by German BM band Todesstoss (“Death Blow”) might have done so already if it had been a more manageable and tidy record lasting half the length it has. But this trio led by poet / painter / multi-instrumentalist Martin Lang, who does nearly everything here except the vocals, the bass parts and selling the album door-to-door, sure doesn’t believe in doing anything by halves: the second track alone clocks in at a hefty 34 minutes. If you decide to descend down this particular path into someone’s mental hell, be warned: you may not come out psychologically whole yourself.

First track “Verwehung” (28 minutes) has just about everything you fear a nightmare can have: it’s a continuous and meandering stream-of-consciousness piece that includes bombastic vocal declamations, screams and ravings, galloping drumbeats, harmonica, booming foghorn sirens, hysterical guitar arpeggio chords, organ and much more besides. The vocalist seems to be on a stage surrounded by thick black curtains of inner night, assailed by unseen forces that strip him of his identity and his right to exist. The whole thing is deeply unsettling and psychotic, the music unhinged though never chaotic, and the singing is delirious and deranged. The harmonica adds an eccentric flavour where it appears.

“Narbenkaefig” may be a longer track but quieter and more controlled, though perhaps no less dangerous with sinister and malevolent intentions in mind as it takes you through eerie electronic drone ambience, spiky venomous guitar and thumping percussion. The singing is tortured and close to hysteria and insanity. Again there is a feeling of the vocalist being subjected to an inquisition by gruff daemons who sadistically subject him to excruciating torment every time he fails to answer or answers incorrectly. There is definite music on this track which compared to the first piece will be much more palatable, if emotionally intense and unbearable at times, to most listeners.

Perhaps there’s a lot of bombastic padding that doesn’t need to be here. The second track especially treads a very thin line between silliness and overwrought melodrama on the one hand, and monotony and repetition on the other. Atmosphere is at least as important as unstructured noisy BM and other, more melodic elements, and Todesstoss achieves a real feeling of hellish and anguished existence marred by psychotic disturbance and being on the edge of total insanity.

The third and final piece is a merciful 12 minutes in length and features birdsong field recordings in a highly atmospheric scene where the vocalist resigns himself to eternal damnation. The track has a mini-movie soundtrack feel and its beguiling melodies have an evil seductive quality.

I must admit I found the music torturous as it is so long (not because of its general lack of structure) and the singing can be over-the-top histrionic, going over into perhaps unintended comedy. Other people have dealt with issues of depression with valium and fears of going mad just as effectively and in equally surrealist / experimental ways without falling into theatrics and faffing about. Remove about half the vocals and cut out some of the music and you would still have a very good record.

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