I had sort of given up hope, you see. After I grudgingly convinced myself ages ago that the world would never see a follow-up to 2002’s Posthuman, British avant-black metal troupe Void has now just sort of popped up unassumingly, as if to say, “Oh, hey, how’ve you been? Say, is that your face there – mind if we melt it straight off?” Not at all, friends; I don’t mind at all. See, Void’s debut album was a bleak affair of dark electro-black metal, fusing the gleaming futurism of Thorns with the electro/industrial undercurrent of Thee Maldoror Kollective (circa New Era Viral Order). And thus, for fans of this particular style of avant-garde and electronically-fucked blackness, Void formed something of an unholy trinity with fellow travelers Code and Dødheimsgard, with mainman Kvohst doing vocal duties for all three. Nine years later and with a brand new vocalist, a skeptical metal public demands to know: Is the black magic gone?
By the time the chanting, dark ambient intro resolves into the absolutely furious tempo and dissonant riffing of “Alligator X-Ray,” you will be flailing around too intensely to even remember the question. Where standard black metal might play the melodies on this album as unerringly tremolo-riffed frost-fests over trebly production and straight-ahead blasting, Void takes that same classic melodic sense and plays it off against jittery, blasting drums and a thick underpinning of clear bass work, topped off with a healthy dose of avant-garde strangeness. This makes it sound like a terrible chore to listen to, but it comes together neatly into a disorienting and satisfying whole. The album is a much more technical style of post-black metal than Posthuman, and although the ‘tech’ prefix typically attaches itself to death- and grind-derived strains of extreme metal, Void makes a compelling case with this great racket for the possibilities of technical black metal. The variety in vocal stylings throughout is also one of the album’s great strengths, though the real draw is the frenetic instrumental attack, with guitars scything their way through serpentine clean riff-runs in a way that veers just close enough to traditional song structure to lull the listener into a false sense of security.
Some of the tracks on this album honestly approach the intensity of grindcore with their spastic black thrashing, and while the electronic sheen of Posthuman may be missed, what replaces it is an equally vibrant schizoid attack. “Where Red Limbs Stir” thrashes its way through a twisted d-beat/punk attack before slowing down into a – horror of horrors! – breakdown of guitar harmonics, oscillating bass, and tormented vocal moans. The drumming on “Cypher” is spattered with jazzy touches, which later gives way to a menacing bass throbbing and a fantastic shout-along chorus. “Feral” clatters into life a bit like the Dillinger Escape Plan circa Miss Machine dipping into Moonfog’s back catalogue, which sounds off-putting but absolutely works. Just when you think the song is about to overstay its welcome, it breaks into a lovely bit of piano, which transitions the listener seamlessly into the album’s third act, two relatively straightforward ragers stitched together with a strings-and-woodwind interlude.
Again, I’ve made all of this sound like a frightful mess, when in fact this album is a harrowing yet carefully orchestrated set of songs that will have you dousing your face in cold water to make sure you haven’t totally lost it. Ben Lowe more than ably fills Kvohst’s massive shoes, largely by taking a similar tactic with his rather dry, possessed-sounding clean vocals and a beastly array of gravel-throated bellows and snarling paeans to darkness. That this sophomore album even exists is a small miracle; the fact that it is a rabid odyssey of deranged riffing and lunatic howls is manna from some dystopian heaven. Fans of Code, DHG, Thorns, late-era Abigor, and even the nightmare carnival vibes of Arcturus and UneXpect should get this in their cyborg clutches now. In fact, if you followed the progression from Code’s debut to last year’s Resplendent Grotesque follow-up, you’ll find almost the exact same progression from Posthuman to Void: both debuts were longer and more electro-influenced, and while both sophomore albums streamlined the songwriting into compact bursts of barely-tamed energy, neither band shook its strident avant-garde tendencies. This may just be the madness you’ve been looking for, so don’t sleep on it.
[Update: I just learned that vocalist Ben Lowe took his own life shortly before this album was released. Read the band’s statement here. Our thoughts go out to his family, friends, and band mates.]