In a scene dominated by the influence of Anglophone acts, The Hirsch Effekt from Hannover, Lower Saxony, Germany, always stood out like a sore thumb (language-wise and musically as well) ever since they exploded into the progressive music sphere’s collective consciousness with the release of their début album Holon: Hiberno in 2010. Eskapist continues that trend, notwithstanding the fact that their mixture of progressive metal, mathcore, indie rock and orchestral elements (among many, many other things) proves as eclectic and potent as ever.
Moving on from the more personal, introspective lyricism found in the Holon trilogy, Eskapist instead focuses on a broader scope of topics. Aside from the obvious references to several forms of escapism (like drugs, ignorance, denial etc.), it’s chockfull of social criticism and political commentary, much befitting the times in which it will see the light of day. My review will pick up on some of that and offer further discussion of certain aspects of the band’s lyrics, so please take this as a disclaimer. If you’re easily put off by such content, go ahead and read one of our other reviews, because this is about to get heavy (literally).
“Lifnej” is Hebrew, and translates to ‘before’; a fitting title for an album’s first track, if I do say so myself. Opening with high-velocity guitars and pummelling drums, it instantly grabs the listener by the shirt collar to shake them, as if to say: ‘Pay close attention, the important part starts right now!’ Screamed vocals and a metallically clinking bass are the contrasting mise-en-scène of the clean-sung, epic chorus. The lyrics are a bit more ambiguous than on most of the other songs, seemingly narrating the introspections of a man musing on his own fate and relationships in these troubling times; times that will be thoroughly analyzed in the songs yet to be revealed to us in what’s to come.
‘Stubborn into death. No god finds his way here. No god will come here anymore.’
-translated from “Xenophotopia”
The seven-minute long “Xenophotopia” doesn’t start off as belligerent as its predecessor, instead beginning with a few strummed chords over rudimentary drums. The other instruments are then gradually introduced, before the song eventually reaches its high pace. Its clean hook is another point of reference for the audience in the general chaos which The Hirsch Effekt embody so valiantly. In a mellow, proggy section, a passage from Schiller’s “Ode an die Freude” is recited (in a Til Lindemann-esque timbre), before a flute and acoustic guitars take centre-stage. The same words are then reiterated in a decidedly heavier musical context. One of the most musically versatile songs on Eskapist, “Xenophotopia” deals with the irrational thought patterns of xenophobia and the most prevalent character traits of its perpetrators (see the first part of the citation above, for example).
You want some djent? Then here you go! “Tardigrada“, one of the four tracks on Eskapist with a runtime under two minutes, delivers heaviness in spades; its non-linear structure and powerful riffing make it a vivious, formidable force among the long-form tracks on this record. Ending on the same motif as it begins, the song is followed by the instrumental chamber music interlude “Nocturne”, which constitutes a succinct moment of solemn repose for the ears.
‘Close your eyes, nothing will happen to you. Only new ghosts with old ideas. Why do I feel like half the world is simply counting sheep?’
-translated from “Berceuse”
Conspiracy theories are apparently all the rage with ‘woke’ people at the moment; no matter the topic, and no matter how stupid/improbable they may sound, some people will adopt them to separate themselves from the ‘unenlightened sheeple’. “Aldebaran”, the eighth track on Eskapist, sees The Hirsch Effekt deal with exactly that topic. Not exclusively though, as the lyrics (see for example the sentence ‘Bin doch nicht rechts, um Gottes Willen / Bin nur in Sorge um das Land’) can also be interpreted as a stinger against the German phenomenon of Reichsbürger (a loosely organized group of delusional fascists, who live under the pretense that the German constitution isn’t legally valid and thus doesn’t apply to them). The music mirrors the band’s feelings towards both groups. “Aldebaran” is easily the heaviest and most math-y of the bunch, with rapidly winding riffs, pinch harmonics left and right, and a frenzied rhythm section.
Eskapist’s 14-minute long (!!!) penultimate track is where the theme of escapism prevails the most. “Lysios” (which is one of the bynames of the Greek deity Dionysus, by the way), is the story of a man escaping the (for him) conflicting reality of the modern society, with all its views that clash with his own (antediluvian) political/societal opinions, by the means of rampant alcoholism. Musically speaking, the song undergoes many transmutations during its runtime, including a dark, brooding introduction, epic prog metal parts, moments of core-heavy rage, and even a jazzy subsection, in which The Hirsch Effekt spoof the renowned German liquor Jägermeister. It’s perhaps the most shapeshifting song the band has ever come up with, and the lyrics (especially during the aforementioned pseudo-advertisement) are biting, dark and to the point – hopefully this will raise awareness about the pitfalls of socially accepted alcohol abuse.
‘Lean back, just like about 74,000 other German victims of alcohol abuse every year, and give thought to the true dangers in this country, like the burqa, the veggie day or same-sex marriage.’
-translated from “Lysios”
“Acharaj” is Hebrew and translates to ‘after’ (a fitting title for…wait, this sounds kinda familiar). After the onslaught of sheer brutality and high-contrast musicality, this song is a soft, melancholy conclusion for Eskapist, further showcasing The Hirsch Effekt’s incredible songwriting skills, as well as singer/guitarist Nils Wittrock’s ever-expanding arsenal of vocal stylings. Seriously, his almost-falsetto is very impressive in combination with the looming, yearning instrumentation. There’s also a line from Gustav Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” hidden in the lyrics, which Wittrock described as ‘a reminiscence of the land of poets and thinkers, but which is also the land of the old reactionaries and hangmen. And of people who are scared of change’ in an interview with the German music magazine Visions.
Whew, now that was a mouthful. Before we go on with the conclusion, let’s take a second to take a breath here, and to regain our focus on the music. After all, Eskapist has thrown us for many, many loops by now, and I’m admittedly still left quite dizzy after every listen. Okay, that should do it. Are you ready? Good, so am I. Let’s get to the final verdict!
The Hirsch Effekt would, in a fair scene, be the threshold for musical diversity. The amount of different styles, elements and progressions they are able to fit into one single album, nay, song is nothing short of brilliant. Of course, this might overwhelm the listener for the first few listens, but once you’ve grown accustomed to what the band does, you’ll be all the more engrossed in it. Compared to 2015’s Holon: Agnosie, Eskapist is less heavy overall, while placing the focus firmly on The Hirsch Effekt’s obvious claim to fame: an unrivalled sense of diversity and coherent songwriting. The approach to lyrical content on this album is also commendable; progressive bands should try their hands at political/social commentary more often, in my opinion. All in all, the total package of Eskapist is harmonious in every regard, and you’d do yourself a huge disservice if you were to ignore it.
Notable Tracks: “Natans”; “Aldebaran”; “Inukshuk”
FFO: The Intersphere, FJØRT, Dioramic, War From A Harlots Mouth