Hymn - Breach Us (Cover Artwork)


Breach Us (2020)

Fysisk Format

Even amongst heavy music aficionados, sludge and doom can be a thorny subject. Some find it too meandering, too unfocused. I’ve heard people posit that for all the heft that is associated with the genre(s), there is often not a great amount of impact. If I were completely honest, then I think I’d have to agree with some of these criticisms to a greater or lesser degree, depending on who we’re talking about. But with releases from bands like The Ditch and The Delta, Elephant Tree, O Zorn! and Ohhms just in the last few months, you could argue that the genre is in danger of having something of a rebirth. All of those I’ve listed arguably fit into the categories of sludge or doom, yet none of them sound alike. There are elements of psychedelia, post-rock, hardcore and more besides amongst those records. Aspects that one might not always expect in this area of the musical landscape. So can Hymn, a Norwegian 2-piece, add to the scene’s broadening palette at this point?

I think they can. Maybe not insofar as complexity or even breadth of sonic sound, but there is something very particular about 2-person projects that exists exclusively in duos. A simplicity, in short. A simplicity that often lends itself quite well to a more visceral musical approach. Hymn definitely benefit from a dose of this. Across the 4 tracks on display here, there are 38 minutes of material, including closer “Can I Carry You” which tips the scales at almost 15 minutes long. So the simplicity in question does not manifest itself in brevity, but primarily in repetition, as one might expect from a doom/sludge band. But even within those boundaries there need to be hooks, ideas, microscopic changes in technique, tone, or some such other variation to keep the listener occupied and engaged. For the most part, Hymn do a good job on this front. I won’t pretend there aren’t occasional points where I found myself thinking ‘How long have they sat in this groove for…?’ but at no point was I bored, per se. “Can I Carry You” for example introduces a female vocal that runs through the early stages of the song before giving way to the band’s guitarist/vocalist Ole Ulvik Rokseth in the second half of the first ‘act’ (if you will) until the song shifts to a completely different state around the 10-11 minute mark, with the song closing out in a squall of looped, distorted tremolo picking and undulating basslines (or heavy-gauge guitar masquerading as bass) being carried along on the subtly-shifting and somewhat hypnotic drum patterns provided by Markus Støle. I’m not entirely convinced it needs every second of its runtime, but it is an interesting journey to go on a few times.

The reason I’ve focused on the more prog-doom denouement of the record to this point though, is that I’m looking forward to talking about the earlier stages of the record rather more. And this is where the visceral, ferocious aspect of the band I mentioned above really comes into play. The bleak, grinding tone in the main riff of first song and title track “Breach Us” hits like a train. The drumming is thunderous and when Ole’s vocals then add to the attack, it makes something wonderful. His vocal style is unusual in its directness. We’re not in Mike Sheidt melodic territory, we’re not in Matt Pike guttural territory and there is no sense of extreme metal growling either. It’s just a thrilling version of a true scream. Unrestrained, high-register, cracked and shredded; and all the better for it. Second track “Exit Through Fire” is a similar tour de force, only really relenting for an extended, chugging breather from around the 6-minute mark, but even this brief respite introduces an unlikely fragility to the song, assisted by some haunting strings and soft background vocals, before a series of intermittent riffs come back, kick the door off its fucking hinges and smash you straight in the face.

Hymn have done a good job with this record. By their own measures, they have given an immaculate account of themselves. They say of their recording process “Our goal (in the studio) was to set things up basically as we do on live shows” by which they mean facing each other with a Les Paul, some pedals, a big fuck-off stack and off they go. Bear in mind that from the initially-prepared material the band entered the studio with, they say there were some significant improvisations borne of the recording process that ended up in the final cut; and they still recorded the whole thing in about 48 hours. That is exactly how this sort of music should be recorded to my mind. It’s not all essential, but when this record hits its heights, it’s real lightning in a bottle stuff.

(Hymn’s Breach Us is released on August 28th)