The Hirsch Effekt – Eskapist


Some albums come along and pleasantly join the ranks of what you previously considered “great music”. Some albums come along and make you question everything you previously classified as “great music”. The Hirsch Effekt’s fourth full-length, Eskapist, is the latter kind of album – a towering post-hardcore monolith that reaches a mountaintop I never imagined to be climbable, from which the view makes most other modern progressive acts look like ants.

The Hirsch Effekt are one of those bands whose sound cannot be tidily summarized in a couple of adjectives. Their own bandcamp liberally describes them as “rooted in post-punk, post-rock, artcore, progressive metal, pop and classical music.” Most bands audacious enough to laud themselves so diversely fail to live up to the billing, but that’s not a concern here. Audible reference points include early Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, Fear before the March of Flames, Kvelertak, late Underoath, The Fall of Troy, and Blindside. Furthermore, most bands who can faithfully claim such a wide palette of styles often fail to synthesize them into a fluid, organic final product; once again, The Hirsch Effekt subvert that by sounding completely natural at every turn, never haphazardly putting genres in a blender or forcing style shifts with clumsy transitions. Every musical choice they make on Eskapist works.

Maybe I should have seen this coming, as there was considerable buzz around their 2015 album Holon: Agnosie. I found that album to be, while clearly the product of talented and brilliant musical minds, skewed a bit toward aggressive technicality. Eskapist pivots from that by emphasizing dynamic compositions with tremendous melodic climaxes, incorporating a lot more of that melodic post-hardcore style. Certainly they do not abandon the face-melting fretwork, as the album opens with a vicious riff on “Lifnej”. In fact, while I won’t be reviewing every track (because doing them justice would be impossible and this review would ramble on for 5000 words), “Lifnej” is worth putting under the microscope briefly because it captures nearly the full gamut of the band’s dynamic approach. (Note: the music video version opens with the atmospheric interlude “Autio”; the album version of “Lifnej” begins at the 1:40 mark.) The gut-punching opening situates the listener immediately somewhere between Dillinger proficiency and Mars Volta sauciness, and holds there for about two minutes as they cycle through several finger-breaking calisthenics before the first hint of clean vocals offer a hint of what is to come. This part closes with a nearly-grindcore breakdown over slap bass, then instantly launches into a straightforward, soaring melodic chorus. After this, an atmospheric bridge features gorgeous, crisply-produced funky bass that builds to a mathy, djent style culmination. Then, a brief interlude of clean chords and music box keyboard sets up an absolutely transcendent, richly layered melodic climax and a final recap of the chorus from earlier. “Lifnej” is a perfect opener and a quick litmus test to see if this band is for you. If you like the tech-heavy parts, you’ll love the relentless “Aldebaran” and a few moments in the fourteen-minute penultimate track “Lysios”; if you favour the heart-wrenching choruses and melodic elements, you’ll be enraptured by the payoffs of “Natans” and “Lysios” (particularly when the band, strings, and brass are all playing different parts together) as well as all of “Inukshuk”. And if you like everything, then you’re going to love everything else, from the post-hardcore’n’roll chorus of “Xenophotopia” to the Leprous-adjacent melodic prog of “Berceuse” and the lilting, atmospheric falsetto that closes the album on “Acharej”.

The first time I listened to this album, I kept waiting for the hiccup, the misstep, the “I wish they had done something else” moment where I could safely pick my jaw up off the floor. It never happened. And that takes me back to my original point: this album is not just great, it’s embarrassingly great. There’s a saturation of progressive heavy music out right now that can best be described as “fine” – there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but it takes an album that is truly great to shine a light that puts those other albums in perspective. This is why I get personally offended when something like The Contortionist’s Language gets universally lauded as some kind of prize-winning prog-metal achievement, when, in reality, it’s a paint-by-numbers medley of basic elements from post-rock, jazz, and prog metal. Put next to a band who are truly masters of their craft – Kayo Dot, Unexpect, Persefone, The Hirsch Effekt – Language sounds like a Jessica Simpson album. And lest you think I’m only here to pick on The Contortionist, I’ll even indict myself. My last review for this site was Leprous’ Malina, an album which I greatly enjoy and about which there is very little to criticize; Eskapist makes even Malina look foolish. And again, it’s not because I listen to Malina and hear anything wrong with it, it’s because I listen to Eskapist and hear what Malina could have been, how it lacks certain creative and dynamic elements that I never even considered were possible until The Hirsch Effekt opened my eyes to a new universe of compositional realities. It’s not like other bands don’t have the talent and creativity to pull off albums like this, but for whatever reason, they haven’t; The Hirsch Effekt have, and deserve to be enthusiastically praised for it. Eskapist is a marvel, a revelation, a note-perfect crystallization of what modern high-energy progressive music can and should be.

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Band: The Hirsch Effekt
Album: Eskapist
Release date: 18 August 2017
Country: Germany
Label: Long Branch Records

1. Lifnej – 6:36
2. Xenophotopia – 7:03
3. Natans – 9:17
4. Coda – 0:42
5. Berceuse – 4:23
6. Tardigrada – 1:56
7. Nocturne – 1:20
8. Aldebaran – 3:20
9. Inukshuk – 5:04
10. Autio – 1:36
11. Lysios – 14:14
12. Acharej – 5:40
Total running time: 61:08

Members:
Nils Wittrock – vocals, guitar
Ilja John Lappin – vocals, bass
Moritz Schmidt – drums

Filetype listened to: CD/MP3
Bitrate: CD/320 kbit/s CBR
Sampling frequency: CD/44,100 Hz, 2 channels

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