Written by Carcassbomb
Tommy Concrete – Hexenzirkel
Prog metal from the UK
Releases June 25th, 2021
Via Trepanation Recordings
Tommy is the kind of musician who keeps pushing themselves to create music that should be considered “interesting” and based on this new album, and his previous effort Unrelaxed 2 (which I reviewed), he absolutely achieves this with an extensive blending of genres and a unique personal outlook on music. Buckle in, this is a big album with big sounds, and can only be met with a big review where I no doubt relate to lyrics in ways they perhaps were not intended.
Often I’ll look at a 6 track album with random 17 minute and 11minute tracks and feel a sense of dread, it’s usually some kind of hit and miss doom, but when I opened this new album from Tommy Concrete I looked at it, smirked and thought “He’s done it again” – I completely trusted that his music would engage me throughout any length of track. There are noticeable improvements here from the previous album, and I think it’s due to a shift of style that Tommy describes: “this time I’ve tried to create a fusion of styles as opposed to swapping between them.” – and indeed that fusion can be heard in a cohesive fashion.
Something I’ve admired about Tommy Concrete since becoming aware of his work and following him on social media, is the fact he is an autistic musician who is often outspoken and broaches nuanced autism topics in his music such as masking and internalized ableism like on Unrelaxed 2. As an autistic promoter and guitarist myself, it brings me great pleasure to hear the quality of this new album and have a part in spreading the word. This time around for Hexenzirkel, the lyrical content revolves around a diagnosis of psychosis he received in 2019 and the lyrics are essentially a chronological diary of coming to terms with that diagnosis. To make it even more interesting, Tommy Concrete is a rare case in that he has visual/audio synaesthesia – which very much took the wheel in terms of writing this record musically. It’s also where the name “Hexenzirkel” comes from, which is the sound and shape of psychosis as perceived through his synaesthesia.
If that context alone isn’t convincing you to try this out, then I don’t know what to say to you… be more curious! The opener “What Unknown Force” sets the tone, a ballsy 17minute opener that encompasses the scope of epic doom and prog metal vocally with the rock and roll grit of sludgy guitar passages and occasional harsher vocals. The pacing never lets up or feels repetitive. I’m just generally impressed that someone was able to open an album with a 17 minute epic and it worked. The Devin Townsend influences are firmly introduced here.
“Practice For The Apocalypse” starts more abruptly and it really took me aback on a personal level because the first lyrics I heard mention Quetiapine which I have been taking for over a year to sleep (Or else I am awake for days and days at a time, as my twitter mutual’s have observed), and I know the hell that drug can bring – the deathlike sleep and the hours and hours it takes to thaw out from it upon waking. It can make you detached AND miserable, barely able to make yourself food or other basic functions of self-care. It’s a heavier track with a really cool transition with the lyric “I’ve lived in poverty most of my adult life” where it becomes so much more abrasive with an almost hardcore styling and it hits so hard, and again, something I can deeply resonate with. That’s followed by an awesome rap segment from a guest performer, reminding me of Enter Shikari. I’ll list the guest performers at the end, it’s a really cool hodge podge of artists. Tommy really knows how to do a long song, with layers of sound that just remain entertaining. The bass towards the end here is big and jagged.
“Entombed With My Pride By My Side” is, as I’ve come to expect, another change of tone and pace. This is the track where the Mike Patton influence shines through the most with a bit more of a catchy bop to it playing with cleaner guitars and disjointed vocal deliveries. The song seems to be reflecting on ones own ego, kind of as a point of strength, seemingly through the lens of misanthropy. Being represented by a beast, albeit an addictive one. The sense I get is that when you strive to be alone, you get to keep your pride for better and worse, as there’s no one present to corrode the pride. Musically, it’s not the track for me but I’m sure it will sit nicely with those more in tune with audible chaos.
The epic doom metal becomes more apparent with segments of “The Blind Man Shines Light On The Truth”, while the music doesn’t necessarily fall in line with epic doom, the vocal delivery at points could so easily be placed into a traditional doom album. Rather than longwinded brooding guitars, we’re met with bouncing rhythms and jazzy synths. A very infectious track that swings between being upbeat and being a filthy rock out. A very fitting sound for a song that is such an aggressive hate letter to the upper class and munted government, something very easily observable in day to day life for most parts of the world, but especially the United Kingdom.
It’s interesting just how playful Hexenzirkel is on a musical level, while also being an album detailing such serious subject matters. “Escapism and Lethargy” has some really fun percussion littering the track, with some great alt-rock/grunge vibes on the guitar licks, bordering on something surfy at times. I haven’t quite heard these styles played so damn fast though, it has the pace of metal with all the cleaner musical flourishes of many kinds of rock, even some exotic-sounding instruments. I love the sludgecore-esque grunting style vocals on the first half and was floored by the operatic vocals that called to mind the Halo theme song. There’s just so much going on in each song, even going track by track and describing some of the highlights – there’s just so much more to talk about that I’ll leave for readers to hear. No one is going to have the same experience with this album, different things will jump out at different listeners.
Finally, we have the closer, “All Of this Will Be Eaten By The Sun”. It starts like a broken machine trying to start up with a wall of noise and mutes that blooms into swampy thrash with blackened vocals. This is the most abrasive track of them all and thematically acts as a kind of sign off for the artist, where the lyrics talk about the very art being presented, “My music exists as a by-product of me/ I can control it and thus affect destiny/ There is no reason that I do this save I can/ So many times when it was all that I have had/ My nihilistic creative process sucks the joy out of life” which follows up with the existential dread many of us spend hours dwelling upon, the idea that despite our exhaustion and rage and accomplishment, it will all perish naturally.
“All of this will be eaten by the sun
Us and them both equally forgotten
All of this will be eaten by the sun
In a galaxy long silent and dark“
And there you have it, me, a music idiot, attempting to appraise the work of a clearly divined multi-instrumentalist. The score is pretty much arbitrary here because it comes down to personal taste. I don’t think there’s anything on this record that was unintended in any way. This album is an insightful and unique look into the world of an individual many could not begin to comprehend, and that few can relate deeply with. It’s not music that asks for kinship, but rather is there capturing an agonizing moment in temporary history. Very sincere and raw.
Tommy Concrete is joined by the following vocalists:
Laura Gilchrist of doom metal band King Witch
Jenni Sneddon of witch rock band Juniper Grave
Michael Brannagh of Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves and formerly American hard rock band Warrior Soul
Christian Kimmet from Warrior Soul and American glam legends Love Hate
Jamie Herkes from Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves and Scottish punks Critkill
Bryan Ramage from prog metal band Ramage Inc.