This is the fourth album from Aussie Prog metal band Hemina, a band I’ve been following with interest for a few years now, and who are led by Douglas Skene, guitarist with fellow Aussie proggers Anubis. In Hemina he also sings, plays keys, produces, writes the bulk of the lyrics and the story. Yes, that’s right friends, story: Night Echoes is a concept album. Fear not though, because I listened to this album at least a dozen times before I realised that there WAS any concept, so I can confirm that it is perfectly feasible to enjoy the album without particularly following the story.
I guess when one hears the phrase ‘Prog metal’ one tends to think ‘Dream Theater’, and I suppose that’s not a million miles away from the mark, but Hemina do bring their own stamp of authority on proceedings right from opener The Only Way. They instantly display their mastery of rich vocal harmonies, melody and hard metallic gloss. Drummer Nathan McMahon lays down a very solid double bass drum rhythm, tightly locked with bassist Jessica Martin. I imagine the band have a love of Eighties metal, as their sound seems to pay homage to that era of very slick heavy rock, with rough edges removed and replaced with a shiny veneer without losing the attacking bite. Guitarists Douglas Skene and Mitch Coull give it plenty of fast and fiery fretboard action, but avoiding Malmsteen-esque excess… mostly! The next song What’s the Catch? is out of the traps like a greyhound, and doesn’t let up. It’s a furious start, and almost perfect.
So once I realised that there was a story, I was able to listen to the album anew, and it revealed a richness which I’d previously ignored. So what’s it about? Basically, without going into too much detail, the story follows a young adolescent guy who loses his father to suicide, so explores aspects of grief, loss, and growing up. Not exactly a barrel of laughs, but it does explain why this album finds Hemina at their most emotional and angst-ridden to date. That doesn’t necessarily mean that some songs here are not uplifting though, and the heavy and powerful sonic landscape augmented by great vocal harmonies provides a balance to the subject matter.
We Will, the third track, is a prime example of some much-needed positivity! Up to this point, we have found more metal than Prog to be honest, but from here onward, things get a bit more complex and interesting. Next song One Short reassures by returning to the slightly more quirky Hemina of past albums, with a near gospel intro, and with unusual layered vocal harmonies on the chorus, coupled with a very busy rhythm section. Things calm down a bit for Flat, a much proggier piece taken at a more sedate pace, and comes as a contrast to the bombast of the opening songs, and this is followed by the short acoustic and melancholy Everything Unsaid, a lovely interlude. The following couple of songs are the highlights of the album without doubt. Nostalgia is a gorgeous slice of heavy Prog with some lovely subtle flourishes, sounding not unlike Magic Pie at their best. All the musicians are absolutely top-notch and nail their respective roles on this song especially, and there is wonderful interplay in the closing passages. This gives way to the standout song, In Technicolour. This song displays huge scope, complexity, big thinking, and great drama without getting overwrought. The harmonies on this piece are particularly enjoyable, and it’s the combination of the voices and the rifferama which are the trademark of the band.
Just to be clear to listeners of a nervous or sensitive disposition, Hemina play full-blooded Prog metal with scant regard to restraint. That’s not to say it is unsubtle, as there are many layers of sound and texture to unravel and enjoy, but when they have a point to make, they tend to hammer it home. For example, Douglas Skene has a huge vocal range and powerful voice, and rather operatic and dramatic delivery, and he uses it to maximum effect throughout. It’s one of the band’s great strengths, but some might baulk at such a full-on delivery. Given the emotional content of the story, I think his approach is perfectly justified, but at the culmination of the album on closer Flicker, the angst-ometer definitely hits the red, so you may want to listen from behind the sofa.
So overall, this is a massive album for Hemina. They are clearly trying to widen their audience, as this is for the most part, quite commercial sounding and listenable, and it is their best produced album to date, it just sounds huge. And as concept albums go, it is not overly long at about 45 minutes, and songs are kept to reasonable lengths to maximise their impact. Is it their best yet? Not sure, perhaps, (although I really love previous effort Venus), but I’m certainly on board for the long haul. What would help get them exposure would be more worldwide live shows, not easy for an Australian band I concede, but that would convince many I’m sure. How about it guys?
01. The Only Way (5:27)
02. What’s The Catch? (3:24)
03. We Will (4:04)
04. One Short (3:52)
05. Flat (5:39)
06. Everything Unsaid (1:39)
07. Nostalgia (5:57)
08. In Technicolour (9:33)
09. Flicker (6:07)
Total Time – 45:42
Douglas Skene – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Mitch Coull – Guitars, Vocals
Jessica Martin – Bass, Vocals
Nathan McMahon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Selin Akbaşoğullari – Vocals (track 6)
Phill Eltakchi – Vocals (track 4)
Reece Denton – Xylophone, Ocarina (track 5)
Dean Bennison – Slide Guitar (track 9)
Anthony Stewart – Musical Box (track 8)
Tom de Wit, Shane Ian Leadbeater, Harrisen Walden, Mairead Walden, Lachlan Arvidson, Simon Bowles, Luke Delbridge, Radina Dimcheva, Anthony Stewart, Reece Denton, Jay Orr, Jevginiy Kasputin, Rico Kallirgos, Daniel Straka, Mark Ashby, Fernando Segundo, Bart Sluis & Aaron Austin – Gang Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Australia
Date of Release: 9th August 2019