Before anything can be said about how good the debut album, “A Thousand Hands”, by Sextile is, I feel compelled to note that Felte is quickly becoming a new favorite record label. It should have been clear that I am a huge fan of Ritual Howl’s “Turkish Leather“. Since, I’ve been keeping an eye on Felte, and caught the new release by Sextile which is also a wonderfully assembled, nostalgic feeling post-punk album.
The primary challenge in reviewing an album like “A Thousand Hands” is that I am ultimately going to spend a lot of time talking about things I find familiar with it, bands to compare it to and what influences I detect. This invariably feels like I am suggesting that this album isn’t terribly original and is entirely derivative. I want to emphasize that this is not how I feel about Sextile at all. It is nostalgic and the band’s influences are obvious to anyone familiar with them, but Sextile has created a nice, original piece of work that puts their influences to work sculpting their own brand.
Imagine the witch-iest of black cauldrons. Throw in a slice of Bauhaus, a portion of The Birthday Party, a sprinkle of Death In June’s “The Guilty Have No Pride”, a dash of Coil’s “Scatology”, some John Carpenter/Goblin-esque horror synthesizers and a cup of 80’s Wax Trax!-isms. You’re starting to imagine the flavor of Sextile’s brew. This album swells methodically with all this mood and 80’s deathrock/post-punk vibe. Also, to state it plainly: it is done very well and is a really good album. It drips with nostalgic atmosphere, with just the right level of retro production that still provides a depth of clarity.
I am going to levy one piece of criticism, not to be taken harshly: This album wears a lot of influences on its sleeves, but fails to rise up to those predecessors. It sort of lacks Bauhaus’ passion, Death In June’s soul and Coil’s mysticism. All those things are present, but it feels like a “jack of all trades” sort of situation, and they don’t quite bring any of the strengths to the forefront. As a result, the album falls just short of greatness, which will unfortunately keep it from ever being viewed as a genuine classic. This is the band’s debut, so there is a wealth of opportunity to grow. Not to suggest there aren’t some classic tracks. “Into the Unknown” and “Visions of You” are straight up fucking amazing songs that will sit in my playlists for years to come, but those couple tracks sit at the end of the album. Not that the journey to them is bad, as I don’t want to give that impression. Every second this album is spinning is an outstanding and beautifully atmospheric experience. I levy this criticism entirely as a gesture because if Sextile pushed the vibe of “Visions of You” into a whole album, they might have something that will stand the test of time.
Don’t let any of that criticism slow you down. If you yearn for a return of rich, atmospheric gothic rock the way it is supposed to be done, you should already be listening to this album.