Hex A.D. – Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden (2020) – Review

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For many moons, the drums were beating about this new piece Hex A.D. were about to release. It will be good, they said. It’s from Norway, they said. And for once not of the blackest of black kind. Nor really metallic, neither.

In truth, the band’s file kinda disappeared into the murky depths of the review pipe. It’s sometimes a bit like one of those monstrous libraries. The filing system sucks, and your research always seems to turn up something else. But here I stumbled across a few pretty favorable opinions that gave me pause.

And – lo and behold – Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden kinda stopped us cold. Whatever an astro tongue should be, I do not know. And no tongue of mine will ever come close to any electrics. Garden, or no garden. So, there’s abundant mystery right there. But hey, Hex A.D. filled this thing to the brim with psychedelics. So, we will grant the record a large portion of leeway.

But it’s this doomy psychedelic retro-prog that really made the RMR deck crew vote in favor of this weirdly fascinating tune rolling down from Scandinavia. This oscillation between old-style and new-style Dirty Sound Magnet that made me listen twice. A willingness to experiment, albeit a relatively mild attack of that, really made Astro Tongue ascend to the top of our mighty list of reviews right away.

In fact, you get a whiff of early Black Sabbath, some tasty Zep, Heep-ish moves, and a flavor of Nevermore-ish undercurrents that I found truly refreshing. It is sometimes as if the Loomis man kinda lurks somewhere behind the studio props. With an occasional nod to the progosphere à la Lucassen.

And sometimes Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden gets you an almost Tull-ish selection of Prog Rock that mingles so well with all the other rocky influences it almost scared us off. The downturned, strangely sludgy guitar offerings will just remind you that this is not Ian Anderson’s gang playing a prank on you.

Already the incursion into French variété got on my good side. Questionably called Elle est mort (sic), this is an intro that got a straight chuckle out of me. A deadly announcement in one of France’s most coveted musical tastes. That’s so deliciously outré.

And for once I enjoyed the inclusion of the terrible ’70s keyboard in all its glory. It looks like the overly abused Hammond sound slowly returns to fashion. We had a few bands lately that boasted a pretty tasty retro use of mellotron and keys to great effect.

Proof of that concept is this cool retroaction of past times called Deadly Nightshade. A modern-day version of sins a re-invigorated Deep Purple married to Zep might very well do today.

But it gets better still. Astro Tongue – the title track of sorts – really made me revel in old-style sins that seem to emerge straight from good ol’ Whitesnake. Embedded on a somewhat bookish foundation of Heavy Rock of the psychedelic kind. And don’t miss this stellar, but short solo at the very end of the track.

The oldish Hawks & Doves almost pushes this imitation game a tad too far. At first. Yet in the end, the RMR deck crew could hardly resist its almost epic bluesy retro splendor. Especially that they push the intensity and complexity up to new levels by about mid-point. So that this track started to sound like something straight from the ’70s. And why am I not surprised to find Eirikur Hauksson at the mic, known for his work with Uriah Heep‘s Ken Hensley? This truly is the filet piece of the play with a straight 10/10 on our internal track listing.

There’s just one bone of contention with Astro Tongue. Rock of that kind should be crisp and straight in your face. Yet here this sounds as if emerging from somewhere underground. And that – folks – is a real pity. It kinda kills a lot of the juicy pleasures that we could have had. If only.

Also, towards the end of the tracklist, loads of that rocky steam lost itself somewhere in the murky yonder of the soundscape. And that feeds this awful stereotype, which says that the worst tracks always come last in an album. Methinks that a severe culling of the songs would have worked wonders for the quality of this record.

Now, to put a tent around this wildly erratic circus, let me just state that Hex A.D. are nobody’s bitch. Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden taketh freely from whatever was there before and gives it a little push – as the Joker liked to say – with some truly astonishing arrangements.

So, far from being the original perpetrators of things, we found Hex A.D.’s gallivanting about an eclectic array of genres and styles captivating nonetheless. In a way, Astro Tongue contains a bunch of ingredients that the band turned into a tasty, hot rocky stew of their very own making. Something the RMR deck crew voraciously devoured, time and again.

Make no mistake, though. To take it in, you will want to give the record your full attention. Casual listening will only end in painful confusion, a bit like sticking your tongue into a socket.

Apart from that, go ahead and get a piece. This is just too good to be passed over.

Ed’s note: And the record successfully made it onto the 2020 Top 10 Records. And, there’s a new album out.

Record Rating: 8/10 | LabelFresh Tea Records | Web: Facebook
Release date: 21 February 2020

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