Hornwood Fell - Hornwood Fell - (7/10)
Published on November 6, 2014
If there’s one thing I’ve learned during all these years in the reviewing business it’s that it’s best to take press releases with a pinch of salt (prone as PR folks are to hyperbole and general nonsense). The one accompanying Hornwood Fell’s eponymous debut struck a chord with me however, as the reference to Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal, the first Borknagar album and black metal’s “original pact” got me all kinds of excited (further compounded by the lovely cover art). They even betrayed a welcome sense of non-ironic self-awareness, stating that their album had perhaps been released “20 years too late to become a timeless classic.” Fresh off the major disappointment that was fellow countrymen Mortuary Drape’s ‘comeback’ effort, I threw in my lot with these self-deprecating Italian upstarts and their “rotten sounds [of] dark and obscure woods, fires and smoke.”
Actually, calling them upstarts is not entirely accurate as the two Basili brothers have been in the game for a long time, having played in the death metal band Hastur as well as the prog rock band Kailash and others. This worried me to some extent as the idea of Hornwood Fell being nothing more than their latest pet project (albeit a black metal one) cast a few doubts over the conviction behind this project (I’m a geek, so I worry about these things…). All for naught though, as the music does indeed invoke that spirit of old Ulver – these Italians playing a decidedly intense and straightforward brand of black metal that has all the bells and whistles that made albums like Gorgoroth’s Pentagram, Satyricon’s Dark Medieval Times and the aforementioned Nattens Madrigal such absolute milestones. Throughout the 42 minute duration raw tremolo picked riffs interact with minor chords and other melodic nuances, eventually congealing into a unified whole that, while not imbued with much in the way of originality, is performed with an unassuming earnestness that’s quite commendable.
The line between hypnotic and repetitive is of course a very thin one and the Basili brothers find themselves on the wrong side of that divide on more than a few occasions (a track like “L’ira” really is unforgivably boring), but there are also a handful of bright spots lurking in the murk. Opener “Cerqua” and “Mutavento” are perhaps the most noteworthy in this regard, the band breaking out a batch of subtle yet memorable melodic leads in the former while the latter sees them toning down the speed somewhat, allowing the guitars to emote a more punctuated melancholy that definitely adds some gravitas to the unremitting slice ‘n’ dice found elsewhere. The vocals of Marco Basili are also nothing to scoff at, his searing rasps channeling Krystoffer Rygg and Aldrahn at their most incensed.
The only real problem with this album is the fact that it faithfully mimics the Norwegian classics of times past but at no point to the band seem interested in taking it a step further. Nattens Madrigal was just relentless in tone and execution, Dark Medieval Times had that vaguely folksy vibe to it and Pure Holocaust was essentially a snowstorm in sonic form. Hornwood Fell functions as a deft aggregate of all those albums but only on a very base level. The formalistic elements are intact but the magic is still a bit lacking. They showcase more than enough potential though, so I’m more than eager to see where they take their style from here.