Edinburgh’s Tomas Pattison, otherwise known as Tommy Concrete, has never stayed with one style for very long. Over the past 20 years, he has released a plethora of solo records in genres ranging from trip hop to prog to black metal. Tommy was also once a member of punk legends The Exploited, and has played in “a million bands” over the past three decades or so.
Hexenzirkel is the ninth full-length Tommy Concrete album by my reckoning, and this time Tommy has, in his words, “tried to create a fusion of styles as opposed to swapping between them,” incorporating “black, doom, prog, and trad metal” as well as “elements of flamenco, trip-hop, rap, and alt-rock.” Wow.
Although Tommy performs most of the instruments and vocals himself, he is also joined on some songs by guest vocalists Laura Gilchrist (of King Witch), Jenni Sneddon (of Juniper Grave), Michael Brannagh (of Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves and formerly of Warrior Soul), Christian Kimmet (of Warrior Soul and Love Hate), Jamie Herkes (of Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves and Critkill) and Bryan Ramage (of Ramage Inc.). The drum sounds seem to be largely programmed along with some live playing by Mandy Dunt. This large collective of contributors to the record inspired the album’s title, which translates from German as “witches coven.”
Thematically, the album draws on Tommy’s personal experiences with autism and synesthesia (the ability to experience sound visually), and more specifically deals with his coming to terms with a 2019 diagnosis of psychosis. The lyrics are also touched by COVID-19 pandemic, having been written in the order they appear on the album between March and May 2020.
Hexenzirkel clocks in at 73 minutes, and consists of six tracks, the shortest of which is nine minutes, with the longest (also the opening track) being nearly double that length. Doom metal serves as something of a unifying element, with all-encompassing sludge riffs, bluesy guitar solos, ritualistic chants and arcane wails often being employed. I expect that this pervasive “witchy” doom feel (aided by the vocals of Jenni Sneddon and Laura Gilchrist) might also have something to do with the album title.
But that is only part of the story. The 73-minute tapestry of the album also weaves in a multitude of often disparate threads including electronica, prog rock, acoustic slide guitar, Motörhead grooves, virtuoso shredding, wacky keyboard solos, flamenco-inspired sections and even a bit of rap-style spoken word that recalls late 80s “grebo” music. Tommy’s personality and attitude does indeed act as a kind of Concrete that, through sheer force of will, binds these ordinarily ill-fitting bricks into an engaging, highly impressive and totally unique whole. His voice has an incredible stylistic range, shifting from trad-metal wail to hardcore bark to spoken word to full-on demonic growl. The guest vocalists are utilised to brilliant effect; the voices take turns, intertwine and harmonise so as to bring different moods to the fore at different times. The way the tracks shift through their different sections whilst still retaining a cohesive structure and sense of strong melody recalls Devin Townsend’s best work, or the more progressive side of The Wildhearts.
The whole thing is super-heavy and the lyrics cover some very dark themes including suicide, existential despair and socio-economic division. But there is also a sense of joyful energy and a hint of absurd humour (think Captain Beefheart, Mike Patton or Type O Negative) both of which serve to make the record feel empowering and uplifting instead of dreary.
Hexenzirkel is one of those rare records that breaks all the rules but just works. It is completely weird but immediately bewitching. It is just as “prog” as it is “punk.” It is deeply personal, idiosyncratic and dense but it also has the visceral power to make just about anyone sing along and bang their head. It is thematically bleak but also strangely gleeful. And it doesn’t sound quite like anything else.
Hexenzirkel will be released on 25th June 2021 via Trepanation Recordings and is available on limited edition CD and digital download formats. Preorder here.
Plus, follow our 2021 coverage playlist on Spotify! #nogarbagetracks