There is no doubting the commitment that Häxan have to their brand of high-octane Hard Rock. Laced with melody and performed with real verve, the three piece from Wales seemingly constantly on the road.
Hours driving down the highways and byways of the country, opening for some big names and appearances at some of the country’s biggest festivals along with some further afield have, in turn, sharpened them into a very tight unit indeed.
Häxan – Nine Lives (Self Released)
Release Date: 24 July 2020
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Translating the ferocity and joyfulness of their live shows was always going to be a mammoth task but, with the aid of Todd Campbell (Phil Campbell & the Bastard Sons) in the producer’s chair, they have captured lightning in a bottle, the results both electrifying and rammed full of hooks.
Opener ‘Damned If You Do’ comes flying out of the speakers – the sound of a band determined to make their mark as Sam Bolderson cranks out the riff, her bandmates turn the rhythm section into an unstoppable locomotive.
There is a note of snotty belligerence in her voice that perfectly suits the song’s defiant lyrics, a bloody-nosed statement of fighting against the odds as it charges along. ‘Killing Time’ grabs some of Suzi Quattro glam drive and mixes it with some of Lita Ford’s 80’s Heavy sparkle and the result is something that Halestorm would be proud of.
Along with the track’s vocal harmonies, another outstanding feature is the whipcrack thunder of the drums, Jess Hartley really puts everything into her playing as she reduces her kit to kindling.
Campbell’s helming of the project has brought a laser focused clarity and intensity to every note, that really lets both the material and performances shine. Along with the power of Bolderson and Hartley’s playing you can feel every note that Harriet Wadeson hits smack you in the solar plexus, her bass not just rumbling but spitting out fire.
Fortunately, there’s a lot more here than the sonic stimulation of precisely mixed instruments, the songs themselves really soar with irresistible, radio friendly singalong-ability.
‘Nine Lives’, ‘Grave Digger’ and ‘Louder Than Words’ all Rock hard, but never lose sight of the need for a real ‘song’ at the heart of them and add to the all killer, no filler feel of ‘White Noise’.
The pace slows a little for ‘Black Sheep’ but this not a bad thing, as it proves to be the highlight of the album, a slow burning monster that drips with a sensual danger and promise.
It is exactly tracks like this that provide reassurance that, despite the naysayers, Rock music will remain in rude health for the foreseeable future, with the quality in the writing and the passion of the performances creating a future classic of the genre.
The loping ‘Crash And Burn’ takes you on a breakneck ride on the back of the Häxan motorbike, all gleaming chrome and blurred scenery as it charges up the road in a rush of euphoric adrenaline, with you hanging on for dear life.
Released as the first single from the album, ‘Skeletons’ is another rip roaring mix of full-on and stuttering riffs, glorious vocal harmonies and an utterly addictive drum and bass groove that will have you dancing around the room in an uncontrollable whirl, air guitar in hand, amps turned up to 11.
If ever they reboot ‘The Lost Boys’ film series there could be no finer theme song for the soundtrack than album closer ‘Living Dead’.
Both lyrically and in its slightly off kilter and disturbing dark carnival atmosphere, the music is playful, but you know that something sinister and terrible lies beneath, as it spins its tale of changes happening as the night draws inexorably in.
It is a great way to finish the album and shows just how far the trio have come as they mark the passing of this milestone whilst keeping their eyes firmly on the future.
‘White Noise’ is a fun and exhilarating ride that will have you reaching again for the play button the moment the last notes fade and, given a debut this strong, Häxan leave most of their contemporaries choking on their dust.
Your new addiction is right here.
We caught up with Sam, Harriet and Jess to talk about the album, getting out on the road and the criminal tendencies of a certain bass player in their ranks!
How does it feel to finally have your debut album out and what was the process of writing and recording it like?
Sam: A little surreal! The fans have been incredible and really backed the campaign so we just hope they love it. The writing process was a mixed bag. Some songs came easily, some needed work, which meant long nights and copious amounts of pizza. But we’ve put it all into this. It’s part of us.
Jess: It feels pretty mad! But we’re so excited for it to finally be unleashed. Writing and recording was a lot of fun, it’s great being able to come up with new things together and see them come to life in the studio, and then being able to listen back to the full song for the first time. That’s probably my favourite part, aside from actually playing them live of course.
Harriet: Without being overdramatic, it’s almost like the pinnacle of my 15 years of playing has come to a head in the form of this album. No pressure.
How did you end up linking up with Todd Campbell and what was it like working with him?
Harriet: Todd has been there since the beginning. He recorded us as foetuses starting out, and as cliché as it sounds, he really is the fourth member of the band. A good constructive outside opinion, especially in a three piece, is absolutely vital and Todd absolutely made us what we sound like today. Truth be told, we’re not “recording artists” – we’re a live band first and foremost. It takes a very talented professional to harness that recorded – and that’s what we’ve got in Todd.
You’ve already achieved a lot and played some very prestigious shows. Your reputation for hard work goes before you and do you see ‘White Noise’ as the next step to world domination?
Sam: Ha-ha I wouldn’t go that far! But hopefully it moves us a little closer up that ladder. We work hard and love what we do and can’t wait to hit the stage again to play these tracks.
You made the conscious decision to release the album now, despite the lockdown. How have you all been dealing with the situation and what was the thinking behind putting the album out now and not waiting?
Jess: The thinking behind not waiting was simply that with everyone being at home and with everything going on in the world, we all desperately need sources of entertainment and things to delve into to keep us sane.
It’s the perfect time to discover new music and new bands.
Not only that, but our fans had been waiting patiently for an album for a long time, and we had it ready to go and it just didn’t seem right to just sit on it and wait, potentially indefinitely, as none of us really knew or know what’s going to happen.
It’s also given us something to focus on during this time, and it’s probably been the one thing that’s kept us going and given us something to really look forward to.
There’s a theme of defiance and standing up for yourself running through some songs on the album. Was this songwriting shaped from your own personal experiences or from the response to being an all-female band in what has appeared to be at times a somewhat male dominated industry…and if the latter, have things got any better since you first started?
Sam: Some of the songs were written with some personal experience fueling them, for sure. But as far as being all-female, we tend to try let the music do the talking, it’s not important, or relevant that we are female. Some people obviously have a ready-made opinion of a girl band before even listening to them, but I wouldn’t say we react in a negative way, unless it’s disrespectful or derogatory, we just let them crack on and do what we love to do.
Harriet: For me, the songs can be related to if you’re both male and female. And that’s really important to me. We all face the same struggles of judgement, prejudice and being misunderstood regardless gender and I wouldn’t want the songs to exclude anyone on that basis. A world where we aren’t seen as an “all-female band” is where I hope to be soon.
Do you have a favourite track on the album, either as a band or as individuals? Is there one specific song that best encapsulates the record or Häxan as a band?
Jess: I think as a band we all love ‘Black Sheep’ and ‘Nine Lives’, and they are probably my personal favourites too. For me, ‘Black Sheep’ is the one that shows who Häxan are – it’s got some balls, a great riff, and harmonies, harmonies, harmonies.
Sam: I think they are all pretty different, but all sound like Häxan! For me it’s hard to pick one specific track which captures what the band is about, as each track has different flourishes etc. Some bring the heavy, some bring the fun, and some bring the hooks! So, I’d say the album as a whole shows who we are.
Harriet: I’d like to shine a light on ‘Living Dead’, the last track on the album. It’s actually one of the oldest songs we have on the album but I feel like it stands out a lot. It’s kind of theatrical and maybe it’s a sign of things to come from us.
With gigs being a distant prospect at the moment, are you focused on making plans to tour when you are able or starting to write new songs for album Number two whilst you have the luxury of time due to not being in a touring cycle?
Jess: We definitely have plans to be playing and gigging anywhere and everywhere and giving this album the live outings we feel it deserves before we start thinking about album two. Many of the gigs we had this year have been postponed until next year, so we’re excited to be able to finally play them, and we have lots of other new things in the pipeline as well.
We’re very much a live band, and nothing compares to being on stage and everything that comes with gigging, even the many hours stuck in the van together. We love all of it and can’t wait to get back out there and be living in each other’s pockets once again.
You came close to being arrested due to the police thinking you were part of a potential illegal rave when you were shooting the video for ‘Nine Lives’. How are you going to manage to keep yourselves out of trouble from now on?
Jess: We’re in a band with Harriet so that’s unlikely.
Sam: We’re always in trouble with someone for something or another. H is definitely the worst offender though. She collects parking tickets and calls them “birthday cards”…
Harriet: No comment.