The Hirsch Effekt’s fifth album Kollaps is a ride. Before hearing it for the first time, I was unfamiliar with the German math-noise-prog-metal trio; my first thought, halfway through the first track, was ‘this album is going to slap’, quickly followed by ‘this is going to need a hefty number of listens’. And I was right, both times: Kollaps is an incredible album, but it’s not the kind that you’re likely to understand fully after the first, second, or third listen, or maybe ever – and that’s fine. All you need to understand is that it’s awesome, ambitious, complex, filled with attitude, and rich both rhythmically and harmonically; in short, exactly what I look for in music.
Kollaps’s second track, “NOJA”, caught me completely off guard the first time I heard the album. It opens with a jarring Dillinger Escape Plan-style noise riff, topped with the kind of earthy black metal style vocals that I adore so much. The complexity of the harmony and time signatures used makes it almost overwhelming at times, and had my jaw dropping in absolute disbelief. The vocalist sounds so furious, right up until the track comes to a jarring stop on a very fusiony chord and completely eases off, vocals floating unnervingly over cute guitar arpeggios. This is followed by some half-spoken, half-rapped lines, which is striking and odd, but also great. The song concludes with a variation of the main riff, clean vocals giving in to tortured yelling once more.
A lot of the earlier half of the album, especially the confronting and schizophrenic “DEKLARATION”, has a strange effect on me. I think it can most accurately be summed up by one sentence: I love it, but what the fuck. It’s kind of brutal, with some early Daughters vibes, but also features strangely consonant choruses, a lot of vocal harmonies, and occasionally almost djenty guitar tones. The extremely real-sounding drums keep the album from becoming too sterile, which I’m very grateful for. “ALLMENDE” is also very intense, guitars, drums, and bass juddering in a way that makes me feel like I’m getting electrocuted, the deliciously strained vocals only adding to this sensation. This song also includes an extremely modern black metal section, complete with blast beats and trem-picked chords, before it reaches a Meshuggah-style breakdown and comes to its frantic conclusion. It’s confusing, but excellent – trust me.
Even the almost classical “DOMSTOL”, with its more traditional chord resolutions and old-fashioned lyrics (some of the words are ones I’ve only ever heard my 90-year-old German grandpa use), very quickly becomes unnerving and frantic, to the point where I occasionally have to shut my eyes because it’s so assaulting. It weaves together noise, djent, and elements that are almost pop, everything tumbling over each other, no section ever long enough to become comfortable in it. There’s some absolutely lovely layering of acoustic guitar near the end of this song, which leads nicely into the soothing “moment”.
“moment” marks a kind of turning point on the album for me. The Hirsch Effekt play around much more with electronic elements from the end of this track onward, utilising synths, dark drum filtering, and glitch effects. It’s very cool, and it’s a good thing the album eases up a little bit here, becomes less complex. “TORKA” is an ominous, drawn-out exploration of textures and tones – one of the only songs on the album that made me feel something, albeit vague, from the very first time I heard it. It’s like the feeling you get when you know you’ve done something wrong, and that someone will find out eventually, but you don’t know how or when; a kind of hollowness in the chest, stomach tingling. It’s a fantastic track, but I don’t want to go into it – I feel picking it apart will destroy some of the magic of it.
The album’s closing track, “AGERA”, is probably the most straightforward and agreeable track on Kollaps. It opens with mournful strings and brooding drums, filtered to sound more like a drum machine; I’ve been a sucker for that sort of thing ever since I first noticed it on Steven Wilson’s “Abandoner”. The harmony is soft and gentle, the singing drawn out and emotional, before a layer of screamed vocals gives us a brief moment to prepare for imminent expansion. It’s not jarring and noisy this time, just lovely guitar arpeggios that lead into the more driving second verse. The occasional use of a reversed snare sample and little jittery synth sounds is a nice subtle surprise. The song dilates and contracts gently, everything tender and subtle. Guitar tones on this track range from mild and clean to djenty, and it’s the only track on the album that features a full-blown guitar solo, shreddier than I expected, but still very appropriate. This is the most melodically pleasant song, both in the vocals and the guitars, and also the warmest song. I say warm in the way a cigarette feels warm on a cold night – perhaps more comforting than actually warm. Certain screamed vocals near the end make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, as does the song’s concluding tremolo string chord.
On paper, Kollaps is my ideal album, combining elements of Leprous, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, and the more brooding side of Steven Wilson, four of my favourite artists. The musicianship from each member of The Hirsch Effekt is fantastic, and, as a bass player, I was pleased to hear some lovely melodic bass playing right at the front of the mix. The production is clear, more pristine than what I’d usually go for, and definitely a bit too compressed for my taste, but extremely appropriate to the genre. The vocals go between impressively ranged clean, tortured screeching, and ballsy growls. Harmonically, Kollaps is filled with delightful interplay between major and minor, consonant and dissonant, and rhythmically, it’s much the same – intricate, but with simplicity in the right places.
It’s a great album – catchy, vibrant, occasionally moody – yet I wasn’t totally convinced by it when I first heard it, for reasons I find hard to pinpoint. It’s grown on me considerably with each listen; the detail in tones and textures never gets boring, the complexity of rhythms and harmony leaves lots to discover. I like albums that verge on overwhelming, and this is certainly one of those – it’s extremely intense, each song a slap in the face, pummelling, furious, moments of softness more precious because of this. At times, it’s nothing short of a confusing, and that’s fantastic. Kollaps is an awesome album that deserves all of your time and attention.