HMLTD – The Worm
There have been significant questions hanging over HMLTD in the lead up to The Worm, their recently released second album. Accusations of appropriating queer culture and the breakdown of a six-figure record deal with Sony somewhat overshadowed the band’s impressive 2020 debut West of Eden, and here they return with one of the most ambitious musical projects of recent times, synthesising political theory and psychological breakdown in a wild mythological tale that takes listeners back to medieval England, swallowed and inside the belly of a giant worm.
In this dystopia, the country has returned to a feudal system ruled over by tyrannical overlords known as the Devertebrates – one of a number of absurd gestures that lighten the mood and suggest the band aren’t taking themselves entirely seriously. Their anachronistic vision is nonetheless imagined as a parable of our present political reality, which they consider Capitalist Realism: the late Mark Fisher’s now influential idea that no alternative to our present economic system can any longer be imagined. In his work, Fisher critiques the nostalgia and imaginative stasis of much contemporary culture, as well as noting an apocalyptic strain that recalls Frederic Jameson’s earlier claim that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. In HMLTD’s reality-creating project, which features 47 different musicians as well as a 16-piece string orchestra and gospel choir, they appear in self-conscious dialogue with these political theorists.
The album’s sound has a shape-shifting, skittish quality in which every song contains a number of different musical motifs, ranging from the black midi-inspired jazz-prog of Wrymlands to the rock opera of later title track The Worm. The narrative focus also continually shifts, with the medieval setting and campy moments of narrative exposition giving way as the record progresses to the present psychological turmoil of frontman and narrator Henry Spychalski, who it becomes clear is experiencing the world created as a kind of narcissistic delusion in which he is the hero of a political resistance.
The middle section is by far the strongest, as we are given the intimate and beautifully textured Days before a multiplicity of different voices are skilfully layered through Saddest Worm Ever, which ends with a discordant pizzicato string section, typical of the record’s blending of emotional registers. The penultimate track, Past Life (Sinnerman’s Song), borrows the piano motif from Nina Simone’s Sinnerman, before building to a choral mantra that reminds Spychalski and the listener to “keep the faith”. In the mood of resolution that is suggested by the final ballad, Lay Me Down, and the peaceful reverie that ends the song, there is an at least partial sense of triumph over the political and psychological battles that have been encountered throughout, and the band here offer an ultimately hopeful vision. The Worm is by no means a perfect concept album, and there are points where its ideas feel stretched, but HMLTD have crafted their best material yet, while showing musical and political ambition to be celebrated.
The Worm is released on 7th April 2023. For further information or to order the album visit HMLTD’s website here.
Watch the video for the single The Worm here: