When you think of the Italian musical canon, bone-crunching and gratingly scuzzy doom metal are not high on the list of stylistic attributes often associated with the Italian musical output. Scratch beneath the surface though, and you’ll find the Mediterranean nation is adroit at spawning some downright hellish bands whose aggression is festered by a socio-political landscape in a perpetual state of tumult. The country may seem to possess a low profile in comparison to its European mainland cousins in regards to its output of confrontational bands whose repertoire lays in the realm of the aurally destructive. However, angry music is alive and well in Italy, especially in college towns where the country’s youth search for mediums in which to vent their fury at the incompetence of the self-serving political elite.
Recorded in Naples, in the shadow and ever-ominous presence of Mt. Vesuvius, Hén is a monolithic slab of down-tuned bulldozer riffs and thirteen-minute tracks that drag the listener through several stages of aural attrition. Despite Naga consisting of just three members, they produce tracks with fuzz several inches thick that is both impregnable and all-consuming. A swampy palette is sliced intermittently by shrill screams and vicious gurgles from noise-mongering guitarist/vocalist Lorenzo de Stefano, the exact nature of his vitriol obscured by contorted gargles to such an extent that whether his vocal barrage is delivered in Italian or English is a matter of ambiguity.
Sabbath-inspired riffs are dispensed with the venomous scourge of Toni Iommi. This is, if the hero of heavy metal had stubbed his toe immediately prior to recording the take and vehemently attacked his six-strings with a uniform derision. Hellish power chords are enlightened with discordant open-note stabs whilst some riffs remain employed for several minutes at a time, grinding down the listener with a pummelling monotony. Such monotony is amplified by the languorous pace at which the lumbering riff-machine advances, rarely diverting from a stoic plod that seems to sit at the perfect BPM to enact the ritual of supremely stoned head-banging.
The album’s namesake, ‘Hén’, indicates The One: the divining principle that rules over the entirety of reality. It is what Becoming implies. Although it is dubious whether any divine affinity can be extracted from Hén, the album itself practically forces listeners to stare directly into the abyss, inducing a state of existential uncertainty through its endlessly repeating sludge from which the only salvation can be found in the self. Hén is a record with enough outward malevolence to constitute a satisfactory casual listening experience. However, it is only when you fully immerse yourself in the pulverising scuzz that the record provokes a reaction that transcends the usual rhythmic bodily twitches into notions that offer insight into the nature of one’s true self.
3 out of 5 high fives!