New York-based guitarist Kevin Hufnagel is best known these days as half of the axe tandem in the experimental death metal band Gorguts, whose recent album-length song Pleiades’ Dust is one of the year’s finest releases. Hufnagel also has a long and impressive résumé as a band leader in the great instrumental prog unit Dysrhythmia, who recently began recording their seventh LP. He’s also served as a role player in a variety of other notable metal acts, such as Vaura and Sabbath Assembly. Suffice it to say that he’s an extraordinarily hardworking dude with a versatile skill set.
Perhaps the best showcase of Hufnagel’s diverse talents is his growing catalog of solo recordings. This cache of material, some of which dates back almost 20 years, reflects just how far Hufnagel’s willing to venture from the metallic territory he’s most often associated with — his solo compositions have involved classically styled solo acoustic guitar, baritone ukulele, prepared guitar, and digital manipulation that erases virtually all typical hallmarks of his instrument. This patchwork experimentalism is connected by a through line of restrained melancholia, which you can hear immediately on Backwards Through The Maze, Hufnagel’s latest self-produced work.
Texturally, this EP-length recording feels most like the electronics-happy shoegaze of 2011’s Transparencies, but it never throws up the walls of warm fuzz that characterized that album. Instead, Hufnagel manipulates his guitar tracks in a more spare and elusive fashion, breaking them down into glitchy loops and warping them with eerie backmasking. Combined with Hufnagel’s characteristically plaintive melodic sensibility, this approach achieves a weird combination of chrome-plated futurism and intimacy that wouldn’t sound out of place on certain mid-period Radiohead albums. (In an odd coincidence, Backwards Through The Maze’s cover art bears some resemblance to that of A Moon Shaped Pool.) If that long-delayed live action adaptation of the classic manga Akira is still in search of a soundtrack, they couldn’t do much better than this record. Listen.
Backwards Through The Maze is out 5/13 — the same day as Pleiades’ Dust — via Nostalgium Directive. The cassette version also features the 2011 release Polar Night, which was previously only available digitally, on its B-side. The three “Phase” tracks in the embed above come from that release.