The Hirsch Effekt
18th August 2017 – Long Branch Records
From a linguistic perspective, being born in an English-speaking country is effectively a licence to be lazy. When we go abroad, we expect waiters, barstaff or taxi drivers to understand us – and, an awful lot of the time, they do. The overwhelming majority of the media we consume is presented to us in our mother tongue. Films made in other languages are all lumped together out of the way, under ‘World Cinema’; be they stark Scandinavian thriller, French arthouse or bizarro Japanese horror. It’s hard to think of many bands other than Rammstein and Babymetal that have made any sort of impact in the UK and US without choosing to sing in English. So, despite the fact that Eskapist is the fourth album released by German trio The Hirsch Effekt, singing in their mother tongue means it’s entirely plausible that you’ve never heard them.
This is a shame, because over the course of those preceding three albums, The Hirsch Effekt have honed a most compelling sonic recipe. It yielded an exciting crop on 2015′s Holon:Agnosie, and Eskapist sees the band deliver their most mature, most cohesive offering to date. Building on a garage punk skeleton, the meat on The Hirsch Effekt’s bones comes in the form of spiky mathcore aggression, the adventurousness of jazz and the free-roaming expansiveness of prog. It is a heady brew.
Wherever on this spectrum any given song may start, you can practically guarantee that will be the one place it won’t end. The Hirsch Effekt lead us through long songs with labyrinthine structures. Even lead single and album opener “LIFNEJ” makes several stops on its journey from frantic, off-kilter introduction to its rousing and anthemic conclusion.
As there is so much to take in, it ultimately doesn’t matter that the lyrics are not in English. This is especially true when they are screaming their lungs out, as screamed English lyrics aren’t usually that decipherable anyway, and German is a particularly good language in which to be angry – but even in the gentler, more melodic moments – of which there are far more than on Eskapist‘s predecessors – it’s possible to catch yourself singing along with syllables you don’t really understand. An extra layer of mystery is added by the song titles themselves. Often single words, they seem to follow a convention, but precisely what that convention is remains elusive. Still, it’s fun to ponder.
With the bare minimum of instruments and seemingly little reliance on overdubs, The Hirsch Effekt have to make every note count – and do. Even the sounds of their respective instruments seems carefully calibrated; Nils’ sharp and twangy guitar and Ilja’s richer, warmer bass tones give them both a big full sound, and plenty of space to weave their individual magic. There are a number of other instruments that pop up to embellish the sound, too – a horn section and a flute variously on “Xenophotopia” – and “Nocturne” is effectively a string quartet interlude serving as a brief respite sandwiched between two of the heavier moments on Eskapist. The fifteen minute colossus that is “Lysios” includes a jazz radio break that is reminiscent of interludes on Refused‘s seminal The Shape of Punk To Come.
Considering Eskapist‘s sprawling and mostly seamless nature, and the sheer density of what is on offer, it is hard to pick stand-out tracks from the album. Even figuring out precisely where one song ends and the next begins is a challenge best left until after a good few spins. With that said, “Natans” contains a number of high points, “Berceuse” and “Inukshuk” wouldn’t be completely out of place on an Agent Fresco album, and “Tardigrada” is a short and heavy blast, like the mirror opposite of a piano interlude.
At seventy minutes, Eskapist is about as long as an album can be without spilling over the edges into a second disc, so getting to grips with it can feel like a slightly daunting prospect. However, with “Autio“, the tenth track of twelve, feeling like a natural conclusion, it may be slightly easier to consider that the end of the album. Then, the vast and sprawling fifteen minute epic of “Lysios” and the breathy, angelic ballad of “Acharej” become a kind of bonus EP tacked on the end. However you get there, Eskapist richly rewards the efforts required to familiarise yourself with it.
Effectively, Eskapist feels like a crossroads collision involving The Dillinger Escape Plan, KEN Mode and Agent Fresco. Certainly, anyone who is lamenting the fact that we probably will never hear new Dillinger material again will find considerable comfort here. Consistently challenging, deeply engrossing and tremendously exciting, Eskapist is one of the most complete, most essential albums of 2017 so far. And with current affairs the way they are, surely everyone is in the mood for a little escapism?