Have you ever returned to a place that meant a lot to you, only to realize that you still haven’t come to grips with what has occurred there? This is the story that HYPNO5E brings on their sixth album, Sheol, where departed souls have returned to Lake Tauca, a former lake in Bolivia, where singer and guitarist Emmanuel Jessua grew up. The album is also part of a diptych that started with 2018’s A Distant (Dark) Source, which showed the end of the story. Although I knew nothing about the concept before deciding to review the album, I dove straight into it with an open mind, as I had a feeling this album would not disappoint.
Spoiler alert: Sheol is on the heavier side of post-metal, and Pelagic Records can do no wrong in my eyes.
Before Sheol truly kicks off musically, the album starts with introductory track “Sheol – Part I – Nowhere,” depicting the recording of the Cesar Vallejo poem “Heces.” This poem gives you an idea of what the overall theme of the album is about: someone mourning for a loved one, and he condemns himself for leaving that person behind and for being in so much pain that he wishes to die. Then, the music kicks in the second “Sheol – Part II – Lands of Haze” starts and you can’t help but be immersed into HYPNO5E’s brand of post-metal. From the minute the track starts, the band fuses their brand of post-metal with other influences. For example, there is this experimental prog streak that runs through “Lands of Haze.” The guitars become weighty and the music takes on this slight djent influence, which complements the vocals extremely well. I personally love when it shifts to a warmer, brighter tone that gives the music a surrealist depth, one that emphasizes non-sequiturs. During one passage of music, you are fully immersed in the high-energy melodies, only for the music to slow down and go into vocals and rim clicks. These musical non-sequiturs become a highlight throughout the album, gripping and surprising you when you least expect it. Even when you think that you finally caught on to what HYPNO5E is doing, the band keeps surprising you with how far they can take their compositions. The joy and creativity the band expresses here is monumental, and you can’t help but fully sink into it.
As the album continues and seems to unravel, you begin to focus more on the music itself rather than the story Sheol is trying to tell. Granted, the story is important within the scope of what A Distant (Dark) Source set up, but, given that we know how the story ends – in tragedy, in grief, in death – the music takes prominence. Lake Tauca and its majesty becomes less of a place and more of a metaphorical sonic palette, rich in hues of brown, oranges and white. That density that you heard on the first half of the album now fully cements itself, and HYPNO5E begins to add strings to their music, giving it more depth. From “Lava From The Sky” onwards, Sheol blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, the surrealism kicking into high-gear. The non-sequiturs have evolved into full improvisations, with language shifting from lyrics in English to dialogue in French adding to that disorienting feel. They shift seamlessly, showing that HYPNO5E is at their best when they fully focus on their experimental nature. This album is an emotional rollercoaster of different textures and sounds that echo the structure of a film soundtrack that you are seeing in the corner of your mind in real time, and it’s an impressive feat.
Warmth is the epitome of Sheol’s presentation, the core of a completed story. It showcases a beautiful, surrealistic kaleidoscope of sounds and shapes that entices the listener with the promise of a good tale. If you have the time to sit with Sheol, then I ask you to immerse yourself fully – never has an album been so enthralling as this one.
Sheol will be available February 24 on Pelagic Records. For more information on HYPNO5E, visit their official website.