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Introducing The Hirsch Effekt: The Eclectic Metal Trio That Can't Be Pigeonholed

Wednesday, 06 May 2020 Written by Matt Mills

Photo: Christoph Eisenmenger

For over 50 years, the key appeal of heavy metal has been its grassroots aggression. Early progenitors such as Black Sabbath, and even blues-adjacent rock bands including Led Zeppelin and Cream, connected with their audiences not because of their technical ability, but rather their gloomy yet exciting approach resonating with the angst of the working class.

With modern upstarts such as Conjurer and Venom Prison already reaping acclaim for being similarly, brutally exciting, that allure clearly hasn’t changed. The Hirsch Effekt are very much aware of this recipe for genre success. And they don’t give a fuck about it.

“When we first started, we were bored by the usual bass-guitar-drums sound,” says the band’s bassist, Ilja Lappin. “We were interested in finding other palettes that could colour the music differently. As a band, you don’t want to get pigeonholed, [so] we don’t always use the ‘metal’ aspect; we return to it after trips to other genres.”

Rather than totally embrace heavy music and all its trappings, Lappin and his comrades–singer-guitarist Nils Wittrock and drummer Moritz Schmidt–label themselves as ‘artcore’. The three-piece bend and batter metal into ludicrous new shapes, imbuing it with hallmarks of progressive rock, jazz fusion, post-punk and even classical music.

Their erratic tracks have often elicited comparisons to SikTh and the Dillinger Escape Plan, but they don’t do the Hirsch Effekt’s dynamic range justice. One second the band can be energising you with a hammering metal riff, and in the next you could find yourself in the midst of a cello-led serenade, or being whipped by fast-paced lashings of hardcore punk. The trio revel in the violently unpredictable, and Lappin attributes that to the members’ near-incompatible tastes.

“Personally, I’m really into progressive rock and metal, and a lot of electronic and ambient music,” he elaborates. “Nils is the guy who came in loving indie rock and hardcore bands. Moritz listens to all sorts of weird stuff, but he also likes Meshuggah and Municipal Waste. That’s why a lot of influences come together in the songwriting process, and why some tracks sound totally different to other ones.

“We can barely sit in our tour bus and listen to a record that we all like,” the bass player adds with a laugh. “The only album that we all own is ‘De-Loused in the Comatorium’ by the Mars Volta. That’s the only thing we can ever agree on.”

With so few musical inspirations in common, it seems a miracle that the Hirsch Effekt exist to begin with. Lappin admits that it was only through coincidence that the trio came together, since he and Wittrock met while studying their respective instruments at the same university in Hannover, Germany.

At the time, they had absolutely no ambitions of commercial accessibility. “We knew we were making ‘art’ music,” remembers Lappin. “It’s not gonna get any mainstream success. We don’t even have any singles that can be played on rock radio.”

Despite this, 12 years after first forming, the Hirsch Effekt currently stand as one of Germany’s leading progressive bands. They regularly tour their home country and were eyeing a major UK breakthrough this summer with a set at the now cancelled ArcTanGent festival.

They’re a jewel in the crown of prog hub Long Branch Records, where their labelmates include such favourites as Agent Fresco and Tides from Nebula. Plus, they now rest on the precipice of releasing their remarkable fifth album, ‘Kollaps’.

‘Kollaps’ is The Hirsch Effekt’s most episodic LP to date, condensing their frantic but elaborate stylings into briefer, invigorating chunks. “We limited ourselves to writing shorter songs because [the album’s 2017 predecessor] ‘Eskapist’ was so epic, with everything fading into each other,” explains Lappin. “The longest song on ‘Kollaps’ is seven minutes, and we’ve made albums where the shortest song is seven minutes. I think that was the right thing to do; this album is harder and weirder.”

‘Kollaps’ is an album where every track has the potential to be a stand-out. Opening song Kris commences with the sound of steel drums, before morphing into math-rock flecked with elements of Rush’s sound. Noja follows in a barrage of boisterous punk and, later, the oxymoronic title track indulges in mainstays of both ambient and noise music. 

Agera is a slow, classical symphony, while Bilen bridges the gap between groove metal and EDM. In the space of just 50 minutes, the Hirsch Effekt offer up more head-turning twists than most artists do throughout a whole career.

It isn’t just the music on ‘Kollaps’ that draws from exotic sources though. With its title being a cognate in German and Swedish, the album was inspired by Scandinavian activist Greta Thunberg and the monumental impact of the teenager’s Fridays for Future movement. The campaign aimed to make political leaders act on the threat of climate change, and resulted in protests across the world in 2019.

“We found it so impressive that such a movement is actually happening in the world,” explains Lappin. “People haven’t been on the streets and protested in such a huge way for the right thing in a long time. And it’s all because of a 16-year-old girl. That really touched us.”

As a result, the lyrics found on ‘Kollaps’ centre around cultures that died out and vanished. It connects those bygone civilisations to the contemporary world, analysing how climate change could, very realistically, spell the end for our own way of life.

“There are two songs on the album–the title track and Torka–that [narrate] a fictionalised story of what happened to the Easter Islanders,” Lappin offers as an example. “They ask the question of why such a culture, where still no one knows how they built those great statues, collapsed. How did that come to be?”

‘Kollaps’ continues the Hirsch Effekt’s quest to redefine heavy metal, rescuing the genre from its cliches to create something entirely new. To call it one of 2020’s most quintessential albums does it a disservice, since it feels like its creators are years ahead of everybody else.

‘Kollaps’ is out on May 8 via Long Branch Records.

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