As a reviewer, tons of releases come across my desk every year, but few of them actually make me stop and say “Wow, this album is really something.” Burial Hex’s The Hierophant is just such an album; its seamless mixture of disparate tones and textures is simply unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Please believe it when I say this is not another case of music journalist hyperbole, this is simply one of the most stunningly unique, beautiful and unsettling recordings ever to ravage my unworthy ears.
I’m a bit ashamed to admit that The Hierophant is my first exposure to Burial Hex; a quick glance at the project’s Bandcamp page reveals that mastermind Clay Ruby has been at it for a decade and has an intimidating slew of releases to his name. I’ve read elsewhere that this is to be his final release, so as usual I’m way late to the party, but while the album may be meant as a poignant farewell, for me it has proven to be a mesmerizing starting point. Ruby’s mixture of industrial rhythms, haunting ambience and passages that sound like synthpop from hell is equal parts baffling and entrancing; this combination of sounds shouldn’t make sense, but not only do they make sense, in Ruby’s hands they flow together like the score to a movie that exists only in the deepest recesses of your mind, part fever dream, part night terror.
Indeed, what might be most striking about The Hierophant is its inherently cinematic demeanor. Rather than begging for visual accompaniment, the album paints pictures with sound; sometimes the tableau depicted is beautiful and almost sensual in nature as on opener “Winter Dawn,” at other times frightfully hellish, as when the title track unleashes a clamorous maelstrom of screams, growls, strings, percussion and synths upon the listener. But even when Burial Hex is making an infernal racket, there is still an attention to detail and nuance at work that speaks to Ruby’s high degree of skill as a songwriter and composer.
The production is densely layered to the point that listeners will likely pick up on new sounds with each and every spin; The Hierophant is the very definition of a “headphones album,” packed as it is with sonic minutiae. That said, it never seeks to overwhelm and never comes off as bloated or overblown, thanks to Ruby’s aforementioned aptitude as an arranger. Every element, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is in service of the songs, as well as the over-arching journey the songs seek to take you on, from the realm of the sublime to the darkest depths of the void and back again.
All of this is to say that The Hierophant is an impossible to classify masterpiece of outsider music. While I realize I have my work cut out for me exploring the massive body of work Burial Hex has left behind, I can safely say that the project’s swansong is an exquisite piece of music that should appeal to fans of everything from electronica to post-punk to doom metal and beyond. An album this special doesn’t come along but once every few years, so get on it ASAP.