Hemina, the prog metal titans from Australia, are back with their latest opus, Romancing the Ether, which concludes the story which has spanned their entire back catalogue! No need to run for the hills though, because if you haven’t been avidly following it for the preceding four albums, it doesn’t matter at all. I didn’t even realise there was any concept until the penny dropped on the last album, Night Echoes (2019), and as with any of their previous albums, Romancing the Ether can be enjoyed as a stand alone record. It follows the psychological struggles of the adolescent from Night Echoes as he continues his spiritual journey, finally coming to terms with the deep issues around life, family, belonging, and meaning. Apart from that, it’s a damn fine piece of prog metal, which also encompasses many other musical influences, and is without doubt their most ambitious and varied work yet.
The fact that it is so varied and multi-faceted is perhaps surprising as this is by far the shortest record they have released at 35 minutes. The truth is, though, that this album is exactly as long as it needs to be, and with Hemina’s no holds barred full frontal assault of the senses, it seems much longer, and I doubt many will feel short changed by what is on offer here. As usual, there is subtlety, but it is often juxtaposed with completely in-your-face histrionics, and I actually rather like the contrast. There is complexity, rewarding repeated listening, and layer upon layer of vocal arrangements which are frankly staggering. Doug Skene’s vocal range is unbelievable, which is something he puts down to his daily regimen of consuming Heminal juices and egg whites! Well whatever it is, it works, because he has never sounded better, and the other band members are no slouches in the vocal department either, especially bassist Jessica Martin, who makes several crucial contributions.
Romancing the Ether is basically one piece of music, and breaking it down into individual songs is pretty tricky, although the band have issued one track as a single/video (Revelations) and that works, but to be honest, this is one of those albums that has to be listened to in one uninterrupted sitting, but at 35 minutes, that shouldn’t be too much for most serious music fans. So, it’s a six part suite, but there is much blurring around the edges, with recurring themes and passages, and an over arching operatic feel amongst the metallic bombast. The first part is merely a scene setting moody minute as a sci-fi and strings prelude to Strike Four, and the band scream in and lay waste to your senses for a minute or two before settling into the song. Although there are swathes of loud guitars and angst ridden vocals, there is always melody and passages of rich keyboards and harmony vocals to assuage the sonic assault. It’s a bit like listening to a hybrid of Queensrÿche and Queen at times, and is really rather joyous. The drums sound huge, guitars bite, but then piano and voice bring it down again, and it’s these waves of excess followed by soothing sections which are Hemina’s trademark. With such extravagant vocal arrangements throughout, the production needs to be perfect, and Ermin Hamidovic has engineered a rich polished sonic experience which matches the band’s dynamic ambition.
Third movement Embraced By Clouds is arguably even more ambitious, and properly ‘prog’. It opens with an angelic Jessica Martin solo vocal spot, and the melody unfolds as she hands the baton to Doug Skene. By now, you know what’s coming, and after a couple of verses, the band crash back in style, with a heavy mid-tempo shuffle which eventually morphs into a complicated vocal section, that made me think of Queen’s Prophet Song momentarily, but the moment passes and another theme emerges on piano and this is taken up by the vocals as the piece heads towards its conclusion, with some mighty guitar soloing from Skene and Mitch Coull. It’s an epic track, and has to be one of the best things they’ve ever done.
What happens next comes as a complete surprise, as the fourth movement is ushered in with a distinctly Indian flavour, with Jessica’s vocals and sitar-like electric guitar noodling, before we are transported to an electro trance dance floor soundtrack complete with crunchy slabs of guitar riffing, culminating in a repeat of the refrain from Embraced By Clouds. It’s so different to anything Hemina have attempted before, and all the better for it. It’s the sort of audacious thing Haken would do, and it really works. There is barely a pause before ‘the single’ Revelations begins the conclusion of the story in an epic seven minutes of typical Hemina dynamism and panache. If you only listen to this piece, you will get a very fair idea of what the band are about, although you would be missing out on so many stand out moments.
So, Hemina prove again that they don’t do things by halves, and serve up their best sounding, most satisfying work yet. The style won’t suit everyone, but anyone with a liking of heavier, more metallic leaning prog, all loud, polished and in your face, will love it. Heaven knows where they will go next!
01. Romancing the Ether (35:02)
– Part I: Intention (0:55)
– Part II: Strike Four (11:35)
– Part III: Embraced By Clouds (10:02)
– Part IV: Dissolution (4:14)
– Part V: Revelations (7:33)
– Part VI: Integration (1:28)
Total Time – 35:02
Douglas Skene – Vocals, Gguitar, Keyboards
Mitch Coull – Guitar, Vocals
Jessica Martin – Bass, Vocals
Nathan McMahon – Drums, Vocals
Phill Eltakchi – Additional Vocals
Anthony Stewart – Piano
David Eaton – Hammond Organ
Maria Grigoryeva – Violin, Viola
Natalia Nazarova – Cello
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Australia
Date of Release: 11th August 2023
Hemina – Facebook | Bandcamp