Progressive music is all about thinking outside the box, about trying something new and exciting. Hibernal has always fit that mold when it comes to trying something that most artists would not. The new album “Beyond” releases on January 20th, and I would say that it represents Hibernal trying to change the game even on their already novel format.
Back in 2012-2013, before I even started The Prog Mind, I was trolling the forums over at progarchives.com. I met Mark Healy, and he seemed interested in many of the same bands I was. I was not aware, however, that he had his own musical endeavor, called Hibernal, and one day he asked me to take a look. “The Machine” was the name of the album, and it featured post-rock/prog rock set up against what I can only call radio theater. The story was riveting and introspective, and the music simply took the story to new emotional heights. Mark ended up releasing three more albums of such music, always accompanied by voice actors, sound effects, and a great sci-fi story.
After 2017’s “The Dark of the City”, I honestly thought we had heard the last from Hibernal. Mark seemed to be a little jaded on the whole thing, and he started focusing more on his science fiction books instead (he’s written quite a few, as well as produced cyber punk soundscapes — take a look at his website). I was surprised, then, when Mark started posting about mixing new music, and even more surprised when a full new album appeared. My question from the beginning, though, was whether or not Mark had found the spark he was seeking. The answer to that question is a resounding “yes”.
“Beyond” represents something new from Hibernal. Instead of the post rock stylings of the last four albums, this record is firmly set in the ambient/electronic/cinematic realm. Textures shift and emote, synth weaves its way through voiceovers and climaxes, and atmosphere reigns supreme. Being a huge fan of this kind of music, this was a welcome change from the guitar-forward style of the previous albums. In fact, I think this genre fits the message and concept of Hibernal perfectly as it builds anticipation and wonder.
On the past four albums, Hibernal’s stories have been set in dark, dank cities, and androids are usually the topic. Indeed, they were quite influenced by the likes of Blade Runner and other cyber punk offerings. With “Beyond”, as you can note from the cover art, Mark takes the story to space, and I can feel the influence of films like Interstellar instead.
Is it a good story? Absolutely it is. I would say there are less events than in past albums, but more stream of consciousness experiences. That is, the album focuses more on the characters reacting to stimuli, and less on a chain of events or a shocking twist. While there is a twist here, I don’t think Mark means it to be completely out of nowhere. In fact, the story, which follows two astronauts who experience some sort of glitch in reality while attempting to take a Slingshot into hyperspace, seems like it wants the truth to dawn on you slowly and more horrifically than in Mark’s previous stories. In fact, the last couple tracks are truly chilling, especially if you can place yourself in the main characters’ shoes.
Rhythmic beats, looping electronics and purposeful melodies communicate all of this to our ears. Professional voice actors Scott Gentle and Faleena Hopkins return to inject life into the characters; their work is always outstanding. Mark is joined by Rowan Salt again on all the instrumentation, as well.
Mark told me that, when he sat down to create a new album, he had started writing music like on the previous albums, but just felt burnt out on all of it. Instead, “Beyond” feels completely fresh and inspired because Mark consciously chose to do something different. I think this album represents the project firing on all cylinders mentally, and I don’t think the relationship between the story and the music has ever been tighter or more vital. So, as this album poses questions and reveals the story it has to tell, I cannot help but smile and enjoy every minute.
This isn’t the type of album where you pick favorite tracks, but I’m going to anyways. I’m going to go ahead and say that the last four tracks on the album are my favorites, particularly “Canopy of Stars” and the title track. I say that I love the last four tracks because they seem more abstract and more outside the norm than the first half of the album. My two favorite tracks embrace that the most, feeling like they are more about the emotion in their respective moments and the experience of the story. The final track on the album, “Beyond”, really brings the icy, panting moments of realization.
Hibernal is back, and I think Mark has found what he wants to do for the foreseeable future. “Beyond” is a grand epic, one that expresses itself more in arresting our senses than in something straightforward. I hope Mark continues down this path and isn’t afraid to get seriously abstract and otherworldly, as can be heard in some moments on this new album. If you like a good story and you value cinematic ideas, this album is for you.
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