Album Title: Hex
Label: InsideOut Music
Date of Release: 14 January 2022
I’m officially abandoning my traditional stance that I’m not a fan of instrumental rock and metal. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found myself liking far too much instrumental music to maintain the pretence. It may not be my favourite of all the various subgenres of music, but protagonists such as Long Distance Calling, Earthside, and even Liquid Tension Experiment have made me realise that there is much to like within instrumental music. And, given the bandwidth within instrumental music, from cinematic movements, to post rock, to prog fusion, it’s nigh on impossible to make such a sweeping statement as ‘nah, instrumental music ain’t for me.’
The preceding paragraph is, I suppose, a roundabout way of introducing the band at the heart of this review and laying the foundations for what is to come within this critique. I may waffle occasionally (or regularly) but I try to make it vaguely relevant.
‘Hex’ is incredibly, the eighth full-length studio release from Toundra, a band I realise as I approached this review, I know pitifully little about. Theirs is a name with which I am familiar, a familiarity born back in the day that I was a scribe for Powerplay Magazine. As I recall, the Spanish quartet, comprised of Alberto Tocados (bass, synths), Álex Pérez (drums, piano), David López “Macón” (guitars, synths), and Esteban Girón (guitars) received a not unfavourable review at the time. But since then, Toundra and their brand of instrumental post rock/metal have slipped from my radar. Thanks to ‘Hex’, that ends right now.
We might only be in the second full week of the year, but I would not be surprised to see ‘Hex’ in my end of year ‘best of’ list. I liked the music on this album from the first listen but, with more and more time and attention, Toundra’s efforts here just get better and better. Not only that, but I like the way that the music makes me feel things as I listen. I can hear the anger, the frustration, the melancholy, the introspection, the positivity; all these emotions feature within ‘Hex’ and course through me as I listen, as Toundra demonstrate that they are masters of their particular craft.
Reading the quotes from the musicians themselves embedded within the press release, it becomes clear that there are some themes and ideas that sit at the heart of ‘Hex’. Principally, there’s the idea of hatred, and the way in which humans experience impulses towards negativity and hate, rather than love. This realisation has angered the quartet, guitarist David López ‘Macón’ in particular, and so there is a strong vein of anger that runs through ‘Hex’, via heavy riffs, walls of sound, and driving, urgent rhythms.
‘Hex’ begins with ‘El Odio’, a 22-minute track that’s split into three parts. Translated simply as ‘hatred’, it underlines that strong aforementioned vein within the album. Best listened to as a whole piece, I love the ebb and flow within the three parts, that together, cover a myriad of differing, competing emotions. ‘Parte I’ begins quietly and slowly enough, but from the off, the tone is dark, foreboding, as the synths underpin the gently-building instrumentation with palpable atmosphere. However, it’s those expressive lead guitar notes that have the greatest impact upon me, as well as the very deliberate increase and decrease in intensity. I’m captivated and when the band let loose with an archetype wall of ferocious sound, there’s nothing quite like it. Vaguely reminiscent of Long Distance Calling, I fall under the spell of this opening track entirely.
The production allows plenty of separation, so you can hear the fast-strummed guitar notes from Macón and Esteban Girón all the while the bass of Alberto Tocados rumbles away with authority. The drums of Álex Pérez are crisp and precise too, whilst sparing synths work their magic unobtrusively in the shadows. When the heaviness abates, acoustic guitars enter, and ‘Parte I’ draws to a brooding conclusion beautifully.
The baton is handed to ‘El Odio. Parte II’ and the intense magic continues, building determinedly with some wonderfully expansive drumming and delicate acoustic guitars embellishing the dark soundtrack which shifts a couple of times, noticeably, to take the music in a different direction on each occasion. All the while, strong melodies are present, and they take the composition to another, higher level as far as I’m concerned. The way that the band can be both delicate and thunderous at the same time is a skill, and one with which Toundra excel.
In next to no time, ‘Parte III’ is upon us and almost inconceivably, it is here where I discover the unquestionable highlight of the entire record. As excellent as the preceding two parts to ‘El Odio’ are, ‘Parte III’ ups the game to an even higher level. The opening is dark and mysterious, with an unmistakeable Mediterranean flavour, quite experimental in tone and delivery. From there, after around the 90 second point, things get heavy thanks to some chunky riffing and more urgent rhythms. The inexorable build-up of intensity then gives way to a stunning melody that builds upon those that have gone before, led by surprisingly poignant-sounding lead guitar notes. But then, just when you think things can’t get any better, the song switches again. A short blast of power ends with a resonating distorted power chord, from which an even more stunning melody emerges. Piano notes, gentle guitars, and subtle snare drums create something utterly spectacular, as if parting the clouds of anger and frustration, to reveal the beauty that can be found within humankind. It’s uplifting, it is beautiful, and it is incredibly moving, to the point where I find myself welling up. It’s the perfect ‘outro’ to the ambitious and incredible opening composition.
‘Ruinas’ takes up the mantle of responsibility, but it does a great job in maintaining the high quality of ‘Hex’. It’s a more ‘standard’ post rock/metal track that’s built around a palpable energy and sense of the organic; it feels as if this song could have been the by-product of an extended jam session in the studio, and it carries that intensity throughout. Again, the melodies are present and correct, burrowing their way into my brain more determinedly with every passing listen, before rather abruptly fading away.
So good is ‘Hex’ that I can even forgive the entirely unnecessary use of a saxophone within the otherwise rather resplendent ‘Watt’. The fact that it is not used throughout and only sparingly as the track develops, I can cope with its presence, although my personal tastes would have preferred it to have not been used at all of course. It is within this song that some of the greatest urgency can be heard, as well as some of the more cacophonous passages, led by the sax. Despite my misgivings, ‘Watt’ has to be one of the more intriguing songs overall, closed out by another rousing and beautiful melody.
‘FIN’ rather aptly concludes the album and does so in a suitably delicate, introspective, and melancholy fashion, allowing the electronics and synths to take up a much more prominent role within the minimalist composition.
I have enjoyed quite a lot of music in 2022 already, but this is the first album of the year where I hear an almost indescribable magic and I know that I’m listening to a truly great record. And, for me, it’s a rather unlikely source too. But that’s the beauty of music, as well as the wonderful unpredictability of it. Thanks to some inspired songwriting, flawless execution, depth of emotion, and a wealth of beautiful melody, an instrumental post rock/metal album has captured a little piece of my heart. ‘Hex’ by Madrid’s Toundra is the real deal people, do not let it pass you by, I implore you.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: