The new eight-track album “Mercenary Retrograde” by Portland, Maine’s Hessian has the spirit, and it moves with metallic fury. The all-killer, no-filler epic is stuffed with guitarmonies reminiscent of Thin Lizzy’s finest. The songs have the ability to rock your face off with double bass drum patterns supporting dark riffage and then you’re sent to the heavens by soaring electric guitar melodies. It’s all glued together by a vocalist with the gravitas to remind you of the old gods and then take you somewhere new.
The track title “I Wish I Was Dead” threatens to be bring you down. It begins with a snare march as you await some sonic funeral lament, but then a groove kicks in that would fit the soundtrack of the 1981 film “Heavy Metal” perfectly. Lead vocalist Angus McFarland delivers the title line “I wish I was dead” with such a declarative madness, you can’t help but want to shout with him.
The second track “Skull Ring” oozes classic metal cool but then airs out a minute and a half in with a shimmer of clean guitar and a traveling bass bounce before the hammer drops again. The song goes on pitting a pummeling groove against a more free and open one with truly beautiful guitar leads laid on top. Listeners won’t be able to anticipate curveballs like this throughout the album, which is why this whole record is exciting. How many rock ’n’ roll songs do you hear where you can guess the next part before it comes in? Hessian never leads you down that tired path. Every song takes chances, who knows where it’s going? That’s what makes “Mercenary Retrograde” great.
The track “St. Leopold” is a gem beginning with a madrigal vibe on acoustic guitar. McFarland stretches out his playful and wailing style sounding at certain phrases like early Bowie. The slow build of the song ends with a burning guitar solo made of equal parts soul and precision. All the while a haunting organ ensures we stay in the medieval mindset looking for the skull in shining armor with a devil’s tongue to beckon we join its rock ’n’ roll occult.
“The Viper” is a sludge-fest of down-tempo black riffs and modulations. The band favors space here, letting the breaks and silence between the rhythms create the tension eventually building into a full sprint. The ending guitar solo takes this one up a stratosphere and into the ether.
If, like me, you are sick and tired of those who say “rock is dead” I encourage you to play the track “Rock ’n’ Roll Soldiers” on 11 and be reborn into a jive-less state of mind. By the third listen, your fist will be in the air shouting the anthem on every chorus.
The final track “Manos the Hands of Fate” picks up the tempo yet again and we’re driven into a supernova of triplet hits. The climactic bleed of saxophones gone insane is a welcome surprise ending.
No question after listening a few times to the record this band is called Hessian for a reason.
If you drive a fast car or have a heavy foot in your Honda Accord, watch out for speed traps. Your inner metal mercenary will have you ripping down the highways shouting, “We are the rock ’n’ roll soldiers!”