It’s not like Hypno5e had anything left to prove in puncto creativity and being cutting-edge – their previous two albums Acid Mist Tomorrow and Shores of the Abstract Line are testament enough to that. And yet here we are with Alba – Les Ombres Errantes (which translates to ‘Dawn – The Wandering Shadows’), an album that breaks away from the technical post-metal the French four-piece has come to be known for, and instead presents us with 75 minutes of acoustic, Latin-tinged folk soundscapes under the umbrella of the band’s side project A Backwards Glance On A Travel Road. If that wasn’t enough to grab your attention, it’s also a musical interpretation of a 2015 independent film singer/guitarist Emmanuel Jessua co-wrote and directed in Bolivia, the country he grew up in.
Only seven people in total were involved in the creation of Alba – Les Ombres Errantes; the budget was very limited as well at 22.000 dollars. In short, the plot of the movie revolves around a man called Mickael who returns to his native country of Bolivia, where he reunites with his brother William. Tragedy strikes as they both fall in love with the same woman and their mother dies shortly after. After the burial, Mickael retreats to the desert where his father vanished long ago. For Jessua, this movie is ‘a poetic view on the memory of a mother and a meditation on the impossible grief of childhood’, which is why he considers it a ‘visual poem’ rather than a conventional film.
A year after work on the movie had ended, Jessua came up with the idea of presenting a different reading of it (Alba – Les Ombres Errantes is not the official soundtrack) through a recording with his band Hypno5e. A few weeks in the studio later, the album we can all listen to today was completed. Now that the background has been sufficiently elucidated, how does the actual music hold up?
The 75 minutes of runtime are spread out across ten songs, with four of them ranging between ten and 15 minutes. This may prick up your ears in concern, but rest assured that there is no risk of boredom with Alba – Les Ombres Errantes. Don’t take my word alone for it, though; just listen to the first two or three songs and you’ll see that there is enough going on here to keep one attentive despite the somewhat reduced musical premise. In its opening 20 minutes, the album spans Latin-tinged folk, acoustic-led progressive rock, and piano-led moments of introspection, and this kind of diversity is kept up throughout (and then some). Single “Cuarto del Alba” is a good indicator of what to expect here, as it combines some of the record’s trademark elements very early on.
Much like the group’s usual fare, this record is a multilingual affair; the vocals and samples are presented in English, French, and Spanish. This cosmopolitan approach has fit the heavier side of Hypno5e brilliantly, making them one of the most lyrically interesting projects in the current progressive scene, but it’s within these ten songs that it comes to full fruition in my opinion. Framed by the French spoken word performances at the beginning of “Who Wakes Up From This Dream Does Not Bear My Name” and the end of “Light of Desert and the Shadows Inside”, Alba – Les Ombres Errantes tells the story of the eponymous movie through a wonderful amalgamation of languages, vocal styles, and passionate lyricism.
Highlighting individual tracks proved to be a Sisyphean challenge for me in this case. After all, Alba – Les Ombres Errantes is not an ordinary record as much as it is an auditory adaptation of a movie, a visual experience translated into music. There’s a lot to take in, thanks to both the brilliantly executed lyrical exposition and the musical richness. Personally, I found it much more rewarding to immerse myself in the album (or rather journey) as a whole instead of trying to pick out any particular standout tracks. It might be just me, but I feel like that’s the kind of attention it demands, given its format and what it represents.
With Alba – Les Ombres Errantes, Hypno5e have added a whole new dimension to their already stellar œuvre. Not only did they create an immensely intricate album in a completely different style than what they’ve come to be known for, and one that can easily hold its own within their discography at that, but they also made it as part of a daring multimedia project. Not many bands have tackled this kind of thing before, which makes it all the more commendable for them to give it a shot.
Notable Tracks: “Cuarto del Alba”; “The Wandering Shadows”; “Calling”
FFO: The Pineapple Thief, Rodrigo Amarante