Hei’An is a Slovenian band that recently released their debut album, a primarily Progressive Metal disc with an exotic blend of Post-Progressive, Ambient, Black, and almost Folk-like Metals. Their tones are often dark and haunting, accentuated by strings and synthesizers. The use of Progressive elements within all the other genres leads to Imago turning into an experimental album of sorts, daring to go beyond the “normal” limits of Progressive Metal into a new realm of Post-Progressive Ambiance.
- Matic Blagonič – Vocals/Guitars
- Matevž Počič – Guitars
- Peter Smrdel – Bass/Synth
- Gaj Bostič – Drums
November 25, 2022, via Saol Records
- Semita Tenebrarum
- Inferno (Feat. Oəlka (Malorshiga))
- Can’t Get Out Of My Skin
- Dreamer [Feat. Joe Buras (Born Of Osiris))
- In The Cold
- Time To Go (Feat. Matic Štemberger)
- Shut My Eyes
- At The Break Of Dawn
- Ko Te Ni
- Preteklost [Feat. Gregor Strasbergar – Štras (Mrfy))
- Ne Iščem Več Besed
The album opens with ambient guitar work and sound effects. The tone is haunted and dreary, helped by the spoken lyrics in a menacing timbre. This leads into the longest track on the album, “Inferno,” which opens with ethereal strings and a hard-hitting drum/bass/guitar rhythm. At over nine minutes, “Inferno” takes a lot of turns, twisting through a soundscape meant to set the stage for the rest of the album. Throughout this album, the vocals go from harsh to clean and back, amplifying the different tonalities in the various phrases.
“Embers” starts with an electronic vibe, almost like some of the experimental Rush from the mid-80s. Using different channels for the rhythm and lead guitar is also a throwback. The lead guitar work is astounding. The solo is melodic with some excellent sweep picking. The rhythm, from the guitar riff to the powerful bass line and the asynchronous drum passages, is heavy and bombastic.
Keyboards play a more significant part than you might initially think on a first listen. They are almost omnipresent but often hover under the rhythm, acting as an accent, an undertone meant to influence the texture of the music. For “Can’t Get Out Of My Skin” and “Escape,” the keys create ambiance around the rhythm in places and definitely around the riff in others. “Escape” has a prominent keyboard rhythm for the intro that fades out a bit but never goes away.
“Dreamer” is a slow-starting piece that goes beautifully heavy a quarter of the way. The combination of clean and harsh vocals and the differing tones is a wonderful example of how two voices can truly separate two sections of the same song. Meanwhile, “In The Cold” sounds like it could be a ballad from almost any band from the 80s to the 2010s. It has that timeless classic sound that has touched genres worldwide in equal measure. The growls make this song cross into the metal realm, but the cleans allow it to be anything from pop to alternative to glam metal, making this one seriously diverse track.
Hei’an keeps innovating all the way through this album. Each song has its little intro, often using an electronic tone to signal a mood for the song. Then, they expand on that simple tone to create a unique and different song while maintaining a common theme throughout the album. “Time To Go” uses heavy keyboards to drive the song, giving the guitars a break and setting a new path. “Shut My Eyes” begins with whispers, leading to a subdued guitar tone, building into a melodic song that is nothing like the rest of the album yet still fits perfectly into the timbre of the record as a whole.
“At The Break Of Dawn” is closer to electronica than metal but stays heavy despite the instrumentation, not bringing the guitars in until after the halfway point. “Noises” builds slowly, crescendos early, then ebbs far before the song’s end, defying the “crash at the end” philosophy. “Imago” never goes full heaviness, sticking to melodic after the extended melodic intro. There is a more robust clean vocal performance on this one. The building up to the belting is done incredibly well. The fact that the belting is the first harsh vocal on the track is beside the point.
The last three songs are repeats of earlier songs but in Slovenian. “Ko Te Ni” is “In The Cold,” “Preteklost” is “Dreamer,” and “Ne Iščem Več Besed” is “Noises.” The songs are only changed lyrically; the music stays the same, which is fascinating. I love that they’ve done three of the best songs in their native language, hopefully for release at home so their fans can hear their own language honored.
Hei’an created an epic debut album, not holding back anything. The songs are well-written, complex, and have incredible keyboard/symphonic arrangements that show a skill well beyond the average first release. I’m not sure what bands these five musicians have been in, but they sound like well-seasoned veterans. The layering of sounds and the ability to stick to a theme without being limited to a single sound/style is amazing. I’m already looking forward to the follow-up, seeing where else this talented group of musicians can take their own brand of Post-Progressive Metal next.
- Guitars – 9
- Rhythms – 9
- Vocals – 10
- Songwriting – 10/li>
- Production – 9
- Overall – 9.40