Back in 2012, I was floored by an album from Aussie progressive metal band Hemina. Their debut “Synthetic” was so innovative in that it combined psychedelic space rock with prog metal, among other things. Fast forward to 2014, and their second release “Nebulae” saw them focus a bit more, while also expanding their palette. Now, they are back again with the glorious new album “Venus”, and I can state without a single doubt that this is their best album yet.
Hemina is one of the most varied and diverse progressive metal bands out there. Each albums sees them trying new things and adding new genres to the mix. They have matured so much over the years. They went from a spacey progressive metal band with this constantly driving riffage on “Synthetic” to a band that can throw in a little funk or soul on “Nebulae” to masters of combining any and all genres with their increasingly heavy sound on “Venus”. They do all of this seamlessly.
Their basic sound is a dense, djent-oriented progressive metal that, unlike other bands out there, does not focus on the syncopation or polyrhythms. Instead, these are but a foundation for all their other offerings. On “Venus”, you’ll hear plenty of jazzy sax and bluesy guitars, symphonic prog sections, huge key-driven orchestral movements, pastoral flute, and more surreal 80’s style new wave inspirations. From beginning to end, they make all of this work like few other bands could.
“Venus” is therefore the band’s most fully realized, wholly composed album to date. If I had a criticism for their first album, it would be that it was unrelenting in its heaviness and drive, sometimes blurring the songs together. “Nebulae” fixed much of that, but “Venus” has brought their maturation full circle. Each album has oozed more and more delicious musical space. Their djenty riffing can definitely be rather dense and complicated to fathom at points, but the band has clearly begun to understand the amazing feeling of adding space to their music that fully immerses the listener in the journey.
Who are these guys (and gal)? Hemina consists of Douglas Skene on lead vocals, guitars, and keys; Mitch Coull on guitars and vocals; Jessica Skene on bass and vocals; and newcomer Nathan McMahon on drums and vocals. Yes, they all sing, though Douglas is the lead singer. There are also various guests who make appearances throughout the album to provide the sax, trumpet, flute, and choirs. Now, the band states in their official promo bio that the lineup is reinvigorated, and I feel it really does show. Their bio wasn’t just spewing BS here. The performances are energetic and the songs are all awesome individually due to loads of great ideas and just this feeling like the band is really having fun. One of the more significant changes is that Douglas is now providing the keys and also new member Nathan is handling drums. These changes are vital to this album.
The performances here are second to none. Douglas and Mitch lay down some incredibly mind-blowing guitar work, especially on the unpredictable djent-based riffs. Jessica is a very underappreciated bassist, keeping up handily with the guitars. Nathan’s drums do indeed breathe new life into the rhythm section here, and he is very mature in the way he can navigate the genre changes. Finally, despite having a super strong history of keys (including one of my favorite keyboard lines ever on “The Boy is Dead” off their debut), I have to admit that the keys are overall much stronger than they have ever been, thanks to Douglas. My brain picks up on keys very quickly, and I hear all sorts of very memorable lines and solos throughout the album, such as the awesome solo on “I”.
The vocals are better than ever. Doug has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, and he is super humble about it. “Venus”, however, sees him produce his most inventive vocal lines to date, no question. The others sound better than ever, too, including his wife, Jessica; but everyone in the band sings at some point, and the vocal harmonies are too strong to ignore, whether they be creepy deep vocals or even a little rap section on “Dream State of Mind”, reminiscent of Pain of Salvation.
Sense of fun or not, the band is tackling a rather somber topic this time by discussing domestic abuse. It’s pretty obvious from the lyrics, which sometimes incur righteous wrath in the listener. They are well written and rather blunt at times. The band, however, manages to make them playful at times, too. I’ll never forget the line, “I’m feeling sticky, so be my glue.” How could I?
When approaching “Venus”, the listener might feel a little overwhelmed. With a run time of 80 minutes and all these genres making an appearance, it is natural to feel a little small. “Venus”, however, is rather accessible and even catchy. The songs range from heavy, thundering prog metal to psychedelic and weird expressions. Two heavier songs near the beginning of the album, “Fantasy” and “High Kite Ride” are journeys in and of themselves, weaving in and around monstrous grooves. The latter is one of the best songs the band has ever made. “Expect the Unexpected”, however, is exactly what its name implies: something different. It’s a slower, trudging song with brilliant vocal lines, seductive lyrics, and a weird factor of 10. It honestly reminds me of a Bowie song.
That brings up my primary observation on “Venus”. I do believe that what makes this album sound so different is the 80’s inspiration that I hear throughout it. You’ll mainly hear it in the keys and some of the melodies, but the album overall has this over the top, grandly energetic vibe that matches my assessment of the 80’s. Tracks like the absolutely glorious “Dream State of Mind” or even the title track have this proggy structure combined with heavy-soft rhythms that break into excellent instrumentals with very synthy synth and killer hooks. Other songs like “Moonlight Bride” put jazz front and center, but remind me more of Gerry Rafferty than anything else. Yes, I think the 80’s are strong with this album, and that is probably why I cannot get enough of it.
My favorite tracks here are definitely “High Kite Ride”, “Expect the Unexpected”, “Dream State of Mind”, and “I”. “Venus” is an album, though, that feels like you have so much more to explore. The title track, for instance, will probably be my favorite at some point, as it is so deep musically that I’m still kinda figuring it all out. The tracks that stick out to me initially are the ones with the sublime instrumental portions, especially “I”. While this song starts off a little slower, it slowly builds and then releases into one of the best instrumentals I’ve heard this year; complete with gravy keys, climactic riffs, and a sweet groove.
“Venus”, then, cannot be recommended highly enough. It is the complete package: an anomaly in the sometimes stale world of progressive metal. Hemina know how to mix things around a bit and how to transition breathlessly from hefty portions to quiet pastoral musings. This album is a journey that you can feel, and it might even exhaust you due to the wealth of content and ideas. If you can appreciate jazz juxtaposed against djent and 80’s fervor next to pastoral flutes, this is the album for you. It’s easily one of the best this year.