Hedvig Mollestad ‘Ekhidna’ LP/CD (Rune Grammofon) 4/5

Okay then “serendipity”, how come I hadn’t heard Hedvig Mollestad’s work before now? Having spent my teenage years in a state of constant Heavy-Metal-as-amphetamine stimulation, a guitarist who is categorised as “jazz-metal” or, more judgmentally, as a “jazzrock monster” AND has been blessed with adjectives such as “riffmeister”, “fierce”, “one mutha”, “powerful” and “fearless” should really have been on my radar, love.

Serendipity-less until now then, “Ekhidna” is my virgin experience of Mollestad’s work and I am now in thrall. The album is named after the half woman, half snake monster of Greek mythology. With a serpentine smirk, I note that the gender ratio of musicians here is half woman, half man with Marte Eberson and Erlend Slettevoll on keyboards, Susana Santos Silva (trumpet), Torstein Lofhus (drums) and Ole Mofjell handling percussion.

“No Friends But The Mountains” opens with a heroic, resolute Santos Silva standing erect and alone as doomy, smoky density looms beneath and around her; further portended by a cleanish, slowish Fates Warning/Metallica-esque Mollestad chord progression. It acts as that very Metal of things, the quiet-bit-intro; a segue to the hard riffing of “A Stone’s Throw”. “A Stone’s Throw” has a touch of the Frippian NWOBHM about it, but that rock tightness is soon blown apart via Lofhus’ busy, explosive kit work and Santos Silva’s perfectly accentuating playing. Then there’s some Zappa vs Mahavishnu fusion dual lead dramatics before Mollestad closes her eyes for the Dave Gilmour moment. Riffarama returns before it excitingly falls apart as battles ensue between guitar, keyboards and percussion.

“Antilone” kicks off with an organic Green Tinted Sixties Mind and a Paul Gilbert Mr Big boogie that punches with a damp, warm, dense fist (the nicest sort of fist) instead of the sharper, tinnier fist (metaphor dies) of some 80s/90s metal. It then expands into a welcome airy trumpet break which closes back up into the riff before breaking into a busy Zappa-esque phrase fest. Again, the rhythmically compelling Lofhus leads with an extraordinary ability to enable and propel Santos Silva (fusion) and Mollestad (psych/fusion) to, separately, go on irresistible rambling solos…hopefully managing to avoid the bottles of piss inevitably propelled at the stage during this late afternoon/early evening festival set.

“Slightly Lighter” is. Glowing, glistening, gliding chords caress and cosset. “Ekhidna” drops a Sabbathy, flabby Fu Manchu-y riff with Lofhus getting properly all around it(!) before it opens into a gently uplifting, dreamy trumpet moment. We’re rudely slapped awake by the returning riff and Santos Silva pairs up again for that wonderful layered effect, where all harmonies are exponentially improved by the dualling of guitar and horn. Percussive breaks fire up the now newly-awkward trumpet’s suddenly staggering digital note choices; on edge and stumbling. Again, extraordinary compelling energy and dynamism throughout.

“One Leaf Left” builds from repeating, shifting, swaying Mollenstad four-note patterns to a proudly gripping trumpet/guitar melody that heralds something of great import. Mollestrad then stomps pedals and unleashes a tirade of trills, bends and divebombs leading to an abrupt end.

“Ekhidna” thrives on the wonderful knack that great progressive bands (whether Metal, psych, prog, fusion or funk) have of jumping from something tight & fierce to something open and expansive at the drop of a hat; creating an engrossing drama where intense pressure leads to respiteful release then back to intense pressure and so on.

I’ve littered this review with loads of subjective ‘heard influences’. I think this is an attempt, by me, to frame what’s going on because I’ve never heard these influences/styles/sonics so congruently blended before. It incorporates much that I’ve loved on my musical journey while boasting much more than a sum of their parts. It seems it was created solely for me. Serendipitous the boss gave it to me to review then, eh?

Ian Ward