Hällas - ‘Excerpts from a Future Past’
Swedish “adventure rock” quintet Hällas made quite an impact with their 2015 self-titled debut EP. A solid blend of progressive rock, hard rock, jazz fusion, and psychedelia, it blended shades of bands like Goblin, Dungen, Wobbler, Black Sabbath, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Led Zeppelin, and Camel into a thrillingly exploratory gem. Luckily, follow-up LP Excerpts from a Future Past finds them perfecting that method while also expanding into more nuanced, multilayered, and colorful avenues. As a result, the concept album (set in the Middle Ages—in an alternate universe—and concerning “seers, a knight on a quest for answers, and the fall of a once great city”) is an exceptional concoction of new and old styles that fit seamlessly together and yield an enthralling journey from beginning to end.
Excerpts from a Future Past immediately makes a strong impression, with opener (and lead single) “The Astral Seer” finding guitarists Alexander Moraitis and Marcus Pettersson driving with clean lines as drummer Kasper Eriksson decorates with bells and occasional fills. It’s a deceptively calm start, as the piece soon explodes into a chaotic and dense parade of fast riffs and rhythms. Vocalist Tommy Alexandersson dominates with rich verses and harmonies while also supporting the instrumentation with hyperactive basslines. In addition, keyboardist Nicklas Malmqvist provides subtle vibrancies in the background—that is, until his delightful synth solo halfway through—until he steers a movement change halfway through (which then transforms yet again into an attractively jazzy breakdown packed with flashy guitarwork). It’s an effectively robust, audacious, and confident introduction that captures a similar vibe to modern Opeth.
Next comes “Repentance,” a more straightforward voyage highlighted by the kind of flamboyant spacey madness that would’ve fit well on the soundtrack of a Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, or Mario Bava film. (Its midsection jam provides a nice contrast to the busier bookends, too.) Afterward, the brief “Nebulon’s Tower” offers a mellow interlude consisting of dual guitar patterns over mournful organ croons and reflective percussion. As riveting as that combo is, the real magic comes when Malmqvist adds a subtle choir to increase the song’s emotional weight; in a way, it feels like a nostalgic coda, yet it still works totally fine here (in the middle of the sequence).
As for the actual centerpiece—“The Golden City of Semyra”—its initial collage (rainfall and tribal chants) sets an appropriate thematic stage for the composition to come. Once again, Moraitis and Pettersson make for a faultless pair as their imaginative creations mesmerize to keep the momentum going with inspired changes from beginning to end. Likewise, Alexandersson offers some of the most fetching melodies on the LP while also aiding Eriksson’s classy syncopation. Expectedly, there are also several tranquil passages scattered around to calm and contrast the hectic majority.
Of course, the concluding trio of tracks wraps up Excerpts from a Future Past nicely. Likely the catchiest and most cinematic entry in the set, “Star Rider” permeates with a gothic malevolence like a vintage heavy prog take on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” (In particular, its funky rhythms and riffs truly complement its evil keyboard swirls). “Shadow of the Templar” is lighter overall, with delightfully complex and flamboyant instrumentation—as well as more creepy undertones—that always keeps you guessing. Fortunately, “Illusion Sky” is a very fitting finale, as it adds a palpable layer of sorrow and resolution to the record’s central formula. (The way it fades into a surreal ether during its final moments is especially endearing.)
Excerpts from a Future Past wisely conjures the macabre and magnificence of many ‘70s genre icons into a refreshing new aural adventure. With a wider range of tones and textures under their belt, as well as a more expansive range of styles and scope, Hällas implements a lot of growth, drive, and assurance to make it a stronger and more varied collection than its 2015 predecessor. In other words, it’s pretty much a must-own record for fans of the style, and it promises great things for whatever comes next.