In the world of avant-garde metal there are many crazy albums. There are many downright weird albums. And there are also albums like Hirngemeer (2015) by German act Todesstoß, which sound like something straight out of a nightmare and are completely fucking unhinged. The release is the seventh full-length album released under the moniker, but the first with an extended line-up. Joining founder and previous sole member Martin Lang is Euer Gnaden (bass) and Flesh of L (vocals). Hirngemeer (apparently meaning Brainworm if Google Translate is accurate), contains just three tracks but lasts for a massive near seventy-five minutes of music.
The album should come with a warning sticker telling potential listeners not to approach unless they are feeling brave and open-minded. In every traditional sense of what music is supposed to be, Hirngemeer just isn't it. It's three tracks clock in at 28:25, 34:05 and 12:18 respectively and on the surface nothing seems particularly structured and certainly not good in the usual way that music is supposed to be, but it's all an illusion. Pay closer attention to what's happening and there's a method in the madness that's actually quite out in the open, with some true genius in the instrumental work from the two instrumentalists, especially the bass of Euer Gnaden. Martin Lang does everything else, including liberal use of a harmonica on opener Verwehung, while Flesh of L spews the German language lyrics, sometimes like he's been possessed by a demon, at others like he's desperately trying to escape its menacing clutches and is utterly terrified about what it might do to him. It's depressive black metal at its core, with many other elements detectable the more the album is listened to, notably funeral doom metal and ambient ideas, but seems more designed to drive its listener to madness than suicide.
That's the first track at least, the second and longest Narbenkäfig is surprisingly more restrained on its use of these elements, though it still maintains a lot of them and a general air of menace. And it goes on for such a long time that it really does present the impression that they'll be no escape from whatever hell Todesstoß are trapped in. Finally, the shortest of the three tracks is Strom der Augenblicke, which actually takes the album in a non-metal direction to finish the bizarre journey off but is of course no less dark and creepy for the lack of metal elements.
Hirngemeer is just too crazy to be an album that many could enjoy on a regular basis, but I admit to finding a strange kind of fascination with it. It's something that you could listen to a dozen times and still not really understand and I think that may even be the band's intention. You're not meant to understand the album. It's a window into a warped mind, one you wouldn't want to own but is kind of eye-opening to visit and an album that's quite unlike anything else I've ever come across, not even the other Todesstoß album I've heard, Ebne Graun (2017), which is comparatively sane and structured. Listen to this when you reach the point where you feel that you've heard everything else black metal has to offer.