The Calder Valley has been well known as a bohemian enclave and epicentre of strange vibrations for decades now. It’s an area of West Yorkshire that extends roughly between Manchester and Leeds across a landscape rugged in aspect and rich in allure. Todmorden, a town within in, has been home to so many UFO sightings that it’s been dubbed ‘The UK”s Roswell’. Sylvia Plath and Emily Brontë were galvanised by its raw beauty. And it’s where Gnod came together to create Hexen Valley.
The formation of Hexen Valley began in summer 2021 when Gnod’s Paddy Shine moved to Hebden Bridge to join fellow protagonists Chris Haslam and Jesse Webb in a co-op house at the 200-year-old Nutclough Tavern. As has been the case since the formation of Gnod, the line-up of the collective shifted and morphed to fit circumstances – soon they were joined by fellow Nutclough resident Richard Chamberlain on guitar, and in the Hebden Bridge Underground rehearsal studio the four soon began intensive jamming in which certain distinct songs and themes began to emerge. These were eventually captured by Sam Greenwood in the same studio, with the whole project taking place in both this physical location and its companion headspace.
Inspiration struck not only from the chemistry of the four musicians in this confined room but all around – Shine cites the likes of shop noticeboard messages and pub conversations in Hebden as lyrical sparks; channeling by his reckoning the ‘valley fever’ that exists somewhere in the chasms and contrasts between the amazing light and vivacity of the valley summit and the comparative darkness of the towns below.
Meanwhile, musical shapes were making themselves known seemingly of their own volition – Haslam shifting back to bass for this setup led to the colossal low-end groove which underpins the monstrous 12-minute album centrepiece ‘Spotlight’. ‘Antidepressants’ in turn sprang from a mantra chanted at Nutclough to a fully-fledged exercise in aural overload. ‘Still Runnin’’ takes shape across a sonic hinterland between Daydream Nation-style kineticism and sludged-out aggression.
Opener ‘Bad Apple’ was an entirely spontaneous piece of in-studio magic which evolved from a spidery guitar line of Chamberlain into a piece of potent and angular post-punk intensity. And perhaps most surprisingly of all, Lou Reed’s tour-bus favourite ‘Waves Of Fear’ is jammed out with fearsome gusto into a piece of first-take catharsis and alchemy, fit to transcend all or any oppressive atmospheres that surround.
The previous Gnod line-up – minus Chamberlain but including bassist Alex Macarte, drummer John Perry and soundman Raikes Parade – reunited for an overwhelmingly positive and successful UK tour in late 2021, and the journey continues. Yet Hexen Valley marks another distinct chapter in this iconoclastic mission.
Hexen Valley is where a monolithic sonic force – charged by the energy of its surroundings -makes contact with other realms. It’s the sound of a band whose fearsome intensity is only matched by their evolutionary drive. It’s Gnod at full power, and it’s a haunted place you might struggle to leave.
* Image shown is for mock-up purposes only. Actual shade of red may differ in appearance on arrival.
1. Bad Apple
3. Skies Are Red
5. Still Runnin’
6. Waves Of Fear