It’s not often that a project can produce two albums in the same year, but Hibernal has done just that. When a band does produce multiple releases, one or both are often lacking in quality, but Hibernal has managed to avoid that pitfall. The new album “Relic” released on August 8th, and it seems to move the project forward even further than the previous album, “Beyond”.
I’ve been following Hibernal since the debut back in 2013 with “The Machine”. The project is primarily made up of Mark Healy, hailing from Australia. Hibernal focuses on music with theatrical spoken word accompaniment, and so there is a cast of voice actors here, too. These actors are Spencer Cannon, Jaren Cerf, and Chris Phillips.
If you aren’t familiar with Hibernal, this project offers something akin to radio theatre. The music is progressive and post-rock in style, typically, but there are sound effects, dialogue, and story-telling that are all combined seamlessly into one professional-level experience. On earlier albums, Mark focused more on guitar, so many of the tracks sounded like post-rock with a sci-fi twist. I liked that sound quite a bit. However, starting with “Beyond”, Mark leapt into a more ambient/electronic style, led primarily by loops and keys. With “Relic”, he dives even more deeply into this, with atmospheric auras, keyboard melodies, and pleasantly subtle musical ideas. I think I may like this sound even better.
Another thing of note, Mark has increased the story to music ratio. “Relic” runs almost 45 minutes in length, and I would estimate at least 30 minutes of that are pure story, set against ambiance and haunting sensations, however. For me, this is Mark fully embracing what it is he does. I know it took quite a bit to get progheads into the radio theatre thing, but now fans are used to it, Mark (an author, as well) can focus more on the story than on the music.
This doesn’t mean the music is an afterthought, though. I found myself really enjoying the music portions. They feel anticipatory and world-building in nature. Songs like “Inhibitor”, “Seven Watchers”, and “Decline” have significant musical sections that offer layers of beauty, electronic musing, and pure melody. I love it.
The story is the center of what Hibernal offers, and I think this might be one of my favorites yet. I loved “Beyond” for its brave incursion into sci-fi psychological horror, though all of Hibernal’s stories have elements of sci-fi horror to some degree. For “Relic”, I feel like the story is simultaneously more realistic, more subtle, and more focused. The dialogue is well-written, and there is character development and moments meant only to allow the listener to fall in love with these characters. There is a poetry and flow to all of it that makes that story itself feel musical, and much of that is due to the excellent vocal performances.
Per Mark’s style, the story focuses on synthetics, i.e., androids. Hibernal has always been an exploration of personhood and where that line is drawn. “Relic” explores this more specifically. The setting is the aftermath of a vicious war between humans and androids. Tucker, the main character, discovers Kinsey, a female synthetic, in the ruins of the Zone 75, where humans both live and work to clean up from the war. Humanity seems to have lost the ability to grow real food, and Kinsey appears to Tucker as a relic of the old world, one that can teach him and give him real hope for the future.
In some ways, and this is me going out on a limb, “Relic” feels like a continuation of the “The Machine”. It feels like the endpoint of the corporate greed and creation of synthetics in that story, but this story paints synthetics in a different light: as ambassadors of a world that could return to humanity once again, if only they’d let go a little. Tucker learns from Kinsey, fights for her, and mourns her. Most of all, he feels more human around her. It’s a beautiful story, one that I am really enjoying. I feel like it has more detail, new things I catch each time I hear it. Lastly, I feel more fully part of the story, more immersed in the world that Mark has created.
Mark continues to hone his craft, and we reap the benefits. “Relic” is a great story with haunting musical passages. Just when I thought Hibernal might be winding down, Mark seems to have no end to his creativity and adventurous exploration of styles. I hope he continues to try new things.
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