Noise-rock trio Hex Machine may not be the most prolific band in the world, but when they put out a record, you can be sure they will make every note count. Such is the case with their latest, and first album in seven years, Cave Painting, out on Minimum Underdrive.

Consisting of Trevere Thomas on guitar and vocals, Alex Ricart on bass, and Douglas Andrae on drums, Hex Machine conjure an unholy din in the name of noise rock, while also peppering in any number of other influences throughout Cave Painting. There’s a musical intuition present that can only come from years of honing one’s craft.

“Oh You Petty Things” kicks the album off in a deceptively somber manner, with just a simple but dark bit of guitar strumming. When the drums and bass come in, the riffing gets heavier and the thundering stutter-step of the song truly begins. What we get is not unlike David Yow fronting the Melvins.

From here, we ride a wildly careening path. Sometimes the sound is violent, such as on “Western Mood Swing” or the sludge-punk “Lemonade Stance.” Other times, the feel is harder to pin down, more abstract and moody, like on “Youth Tube” or “Talking Back to Heaven.” Hex Machine is effectively unpredictable, like an angry drunk with a thousand yard stare. There are elements of sludge, postpunk, and of course noise rock coming from every direction. You know you’re going to get pummeled, you’re just not sure how.

One major surprise is a cover of the Psychedelic Furs‘ “President Gas.” While the original sits comfortably in the context of postpunk and New Wave, on Cave Painting it is easily transformed into a much more menace-ridden affair. Andrae inserts a number of interrupting drum rolls and militaristic cadences which ramp up the tension considerably. The guitar threatens to drown out the vocal and the prototypical New Wave guitar break of the original is transformed by Hex Machine into a call to noise. The whole thing seems at times to teeter on the edge of collapse, much like the political climate it seems to be trying to address.

When one considers the six-year gap between 2013’s Fixator and Cave Painting, Hex Machine‘s consistency is remarkable. Perhaps Cave Painting has a bit less of an overt metal influence, but that intensity is still there, just channeled through different influences. The increased control over dynamics comes across as less a full frontal assault, and more like a wide-eyed predator stalking its prey. Cave Painting as an album title seems to capture the feral intent of the music, but like a lot of current noise rock, it also seems to belie the actual complexity of the music. This is a record that is both immediately pleasurable, and also rewards deeper listening.

Todd Manning

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