Häxenzijrkell, Urgrund, Germany, Amor Fati Productions, AFP210, CD digipak (2022)
A black / doom duo since forming in Essen in 2016, Häxenzirjkell – the name is a variant spelling of the German “hexenzirkel”, referring to a circle or coven of witches – gradually worked their way through small releases to their debut album “Die Nachtseite” in 2020. The musicians brought out second album “Urgrund” in early 2022; in English, the title means “Origin” or “Source” which I take to suggest that the music here comes from some deep primal subconscious well and could be an unsettling, confronting experience for unsuspecting listeners. Certainly the music sounds as if it’s coming from somewhere bleak, deep down in the musicians’ backgrounds or psyches: a disturbing place of dark compulsion or obsession that compels listeners to follow, as if through hypnosis. The slow doomy repetition and looping riffs exercise a trance-like effect, and samples of spoken-voice radio recordings bring a sinister, almost satanic aspect to the relentless flow of riff layers. In the distant black caverns behind the chainsaw roar of the guitars, screams and howls of the damned are almost continuous.
The album is divided into three parts with the first part, “Die Entschleierung” (“The Unveiling”) which is a whopping 18-minute atmospheric BM / doom number that hits you hard with its harsh bleak tone and production, the screaming, gibbering vocals, the music’s arduous pace and the sense of suffocation in the droning guitar grind. Now and again sinister spoken-voice recordings appear beneath the wavy guitar riffs. There is definitely the sense of a secret ritual slowly unfurling in form like a magic scroll unravelling and revealing its secret spells, and the effects those spells generate when they are exposed to air or light. On and on the music goes, its sense of near madness and chaos growing greater and more intense to an ear-shattering guitar feedback climax.
The second and third parts are shorter pieces but no less gruelling and monotonous. “Von Zeit und Form” (“Of Time and Form”) continues with the repetitive percussion and the secret ritual, the doomy and damned atmosphere and the feeling of oppression. The riffs seem more defined though as on the first track they are linked in one continuous droning progression. “Der Pfad der Finsternis” (“The Path of Darkness”) dials up the oppression and the desperation, with the screaming becoming more manic and desperate, and the pace of the music varying much more from doomy slowness to speedy urgency with heavier drumming.
It’s certainly not a recording you’d want to play late in the evening or when you’re feeling sleepy as the atmosphere can be desolate and frightening, and the guitars’ abrasive tones can be hard on the eardrums. In all three tracks, the music relies on slow linked loops of riffs, giving an impression of a continuous, undulating wave of droning guitar noise. The drumming gives a structure and backbone to the music, and brings pace. The monotony can grate on listeners and I would think that if the music were any longer than it is, the unending repetition and monotony might be more annoying than essential to the music. Some variety and development in mood, atmosphere and song structure will then become necessary. While the production style emphasises the bleakness and the disturbing occult nature of the blackened doom ritual, at the same time it robs the music of the depth and subtlety it needs and makes it seem one-dimensional.
So far Häxenzirjkell have done well with a particular song-writing format that achieves and sustains the hypnotic effect they need and want but on future albums the musicians will need a bigger and more varied set of tools and techniques to expand and deepen their music’s occult trance realms.