Written by Kep
Hebephrenique – Non Compos Mentis
> Avant-garde black/death metal
> Releasing October 31
> Gutter Prince Cabal/Brilliant Emperor Records
You’ve gotta love it when a band has a theme and really commits to it. You know what I mean: the Ahabs and Earth Crisises and Slugdges and the like. Not a gimmick, mind you; that’s a whole different deal (but it can still be awesome—Ghoul, for example). A thematic throughline that ties a project together from name to lyrical material is a special thing indeed, and thus Hebephrenique are already one of a select group. Their music belongs to a relatively niche subset of metal—avant-garde black/death, with elements that make you think of bands like Gorguts, Portal, Thantifaxath, and the like—and so the project feels quite distinct from the start. They’ve gone for broke here on their debut EP, cramming thick swathes of influence and textures into a 29-minute package, and have created an impressively cohesive and engrossing listen.
An as-of-yet anonymous two-person act hailing from Brisbane, Hebephrenique takes its inspiration from mental disorders. The project’s name itself is a Latin word that means “hebephrenic,” which is the adjective used in relation to hebephrenia, a mental disorder that used to be known as “disorganized schizophrenia.” The name of the EP is a phrase you might have come across before: Non Compos Mentis. It’s also a Latin term, and translates to “of unsound mind” or “not in control of one’s mind”; you’ve likely heard it used in relation to legal matters, where it’s the traditional terminology for insanity. You can see Hebephrenique’s theme clearly, and that’s before even accounting for the music itself.
The release is a five-track affair, with four meaty songs separated in the center by a particularly compelling ambient number. It’s a smart structure given the high level of intensity contained in Hebephrenique’s chaotic style; that ambient break, engaging as it is, feels well-deserved and almost necessary when it arrives. Opener “An Insane Cacophony” thrashes and roils madly, drums pounding beneath an assortment of jagged and discordant riffs in a ruthless assault of manic tumult. The duo’s vocalist sounds like an absolute madman, roaring rabidly and shouting, sometimes almost arrhythmically, gasping and wretching in tortured cries. There’s little to no solid ground to be found here; punching syncopations batter, rolling thunderous kicks pour in torrents, and sliding chromatic movements feel like slippery rivulets of shapeshifting slime beneath your feet.
Things don’t get any calmer on second track “The Curse of Biology”, a brutally violent experience that races forward at a breakneck pace, except for when it lurches to a haunting halt a la Meshuggah’s quietest moments and agonizingly flails about with groaned vocals straight out of a horror flick. “Waking”, the aforementioned central ambient track, provides a respite from the violence—but not from the unsettling terror. It feels alive, breathing and pulsing in captivating dissonant layers, like an auditory nightmare you can only drift inside of. There’s a clear compositional framework, too: a dizzying beginning, swelling middle, and minimalistic end that sets the mind on edge waiting for the next assault. That assault comes in the form of “Homicidal Ambivalence”, a raging inferno of driving riffs and rabidly pounding rhythms juxtaposed in moments against eerie calm and strangely angled sequences of licks and chugs.
Final piece “Non Compos Mentis”—the title track, of course—is the finest on the record. Stretching well over nine minutes, it forms the thematic height of the EP, beginning with a frantic series of lines that reach wildly this way and that, as whispers of voices and hints of words slip in and out of focus. Dissonant black metal winds whip things into a frenzy as distortion and harmonies crunch, vocals howling starkly above. It arrives at a surprisingly simple riff, brutish and powerful, before a final haunting postlude of considerable length. Ghostly guitar pairs with airy groans, building to a final brief stretch of painful, moaning vocals. The final two minutes consist of the postlude’s guitar line, recording now reversed, as an audio recording plays; a patient speaks to an interviewer, discussing their placement in a mental institution. “People dislike me because I am not completely like them.”
It’s an undeniably powerful piece of music, and that power is supported by great, gritty production. The mix is quite dense but not obnoxiously so—and that density fits the overwhelming nature of Hebephrenique’s style like a glove—and even at the record’s most intense and animalistic moments the individual pieces are distinguishable. The bass has some particularly enjoyable licks that ride up in the mix, especially in “Homicidal Albivalence” and “Non Compos Mentis”, and there are a wealth of tones to be heard in both the guitars and vocals. It’s also impressive that the few “familiar” moments—like the guitar solo near the end of “The Curse of Biology”—still feel crunchy enough that they fit neatly in rather than standing out as dissimilar. And those moments of ambience and layered dissonant tones are to die for!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Quite frankly, I’m so impressed by this release that I wonder what they could do next that could blow me away more. Hebephrenique has come out of nowhere to deliver one of my favorite releases of the year, a wild and unflinchingly horrifying listen that drives its theme home with violence and surprising dynamism. Do not miss Non Compos Mentis.