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Album Reviews : Hemina – Synthetic

By on September 24, 2011

After reviewing Hemina’s EP ‘As We Know It’ earlier this year, and giving it an almost perfect score, I had big expectations for the full length album ‘Synthetic’, which has been in production over a large part of this year. The five-piece from Sydney, formed by frontman Douglas Skene in 2008, are as unique as they are brilliant, combining the defining elements of classic prog rock with more modern elements of metal, creating something that is true to the genre yet evolved from anything that I can describe with a recognisable label.

 ‘Synthetic’ plays out like a conceptual rock opera, without the inclusion of a myriad of guest vocals. It’s clear that guests are not needed as Skene’s vocals first emerge amidst the atmospheric instrumentals of opening track ‘This Hour of Ours’. They are in every way flawless, beautiful and beyond serenity. He has clearly been influenced by Daniel Gildenlöw of Pain of Salvation, which is especially clear as he whispers in hushed tones. Skene even displays a comparable range, from a haunting baritone that incites memories of Leonard Cohen, to a falsetto that even Helloween‘s Michael Kiske can appreciate. Combine this with a band of musical virtuosos, each one a master of their individual instruments, and the result is overwhelming.

The first real track on the album, ‘To Conceive a Plan’ shows the epic scope that Hemina aim for in their music. Clocking in at about eleven and a half minutes, this track will have you hooked during the first five minutes of progressive instrumental wizardry. The music is dynamic, constantly changing in mood and atmosphere, whilst being built by layers of complex musicianship by Douglas Skene (guitar/vocals), Andrew Craig (percussion), Mitch Coull (guitar/vocals), Jessica Martin (bass/vocals) and Phill Eltakchi (keyboards). Keyboards, and more notably synths are used quite prominently throughout the album, keeping true to the 70s action movie sound that classic prog rock is so well known for.

Amongst the eleven tracks are the three brilliant tracks from the EP. ‘For All Wrong Reasons’ is a dominantly acoustic song overlain with Skene’s flowing vocals, backed at times by keyboardist Jessica Martin. ‘And Now to Find a Friend’ is one of my favourite songs, clocking in at just over eleven minutes, whilst hitting some major sonic extremities, from subtle, minimalist moments of whisper to explosive moments of synth and guitar driven ascension. ‘With What I See’ manages to plough on relentlessly for six and a half minutes without falter, with energetic vocals and delicate piano intermixed with shredding guitar.

These songs have been re-recorded for the new album, and the production quality has improved notably, with each instrument able to be picked out and heard clearly amongst the dense layers of instrumentation.

From the new songs, my favourite is ‘Hunting is for Women’, which opens with a tribal sounding drumbeat, giving a sombre backing to Douglas’ vocals. These intermix to create something quite beautiful, but at the same time, quite haunting. The final track on the album, ‘Divine’, is the longest of all the tracks at thirteen and a half minutes, and every last bit of energy has been poured into this track as it hits every high and every low, showing off the band’s ability to keep control of a song as dynamic as this, as well as the band’s huge amount of talent. One listen to the epic guitar solo in the second half of this song and it is impossible to be left with any doubt.

Hemina are proving to be incredibly consistent with their music, and I am left with no doubt that they are one of the most talented Australian bands of our time.

‘Synthetic’ has clearly been recorded with blood, sweat and tears, resulting in a landmark debut. A follow up album, ‘Venus’, has already been written for release in 2013, and if it is able to compare with this effort, then the wait will be more than worth it. If anything, this album is an omen of big things to come for this band! 10/10

Band: Hemina
Album: Synthetic
Year: 2011
Genre: Prog rock/metal
Origin: Sydney, Australia
Label: Independent
http://www.heminamusic.com/

 Track listing:
1. This Hour of Ours
2. To Conceive a Plan
3. The Boy is Dead
4. For All Wrong Reasons
5. And Now to Find a Friend
6. With What I See
7. Hunting is for Women
8. Even in Heaven
9. Conduit to the Sky
10. Haunting Me!
11. Divine