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Background Ambient Black - 60%

Gespenster, July 10th, 2013

Ambient music is a tough type of genre to write and plot out. If done right, the music can be soothing but still unsettling in its dark fabric. On the other hand, there is a chance that the tracks can end up sounding boring and completely uneventful, even by its nature's standards. California trio Fell Voices is a group that sort of falls just on the border between the two worlds. Established in 2008 from Santa Cruz, they released a few records over the years, their newest installment being their third full-length album called "Regnum Saturni." It's an atmospheric release that has its fair share of pros and cons in its ambient wake.

"Regnum Saturni" is an album constructed of a blend of atmospheric metal, black metal, and drone. The end result is three very ambient tracks that are generally carried out decently. They have a sort of otherworldly tone to their sound, with the echoing but surprisingly fast-paced instrumentation. The aggressive vocal roars are partly faded out, hence the band's name Fell Voices, and it does create more atmosphere for the music. The music is composed rather nicely also, with well laid-out shady passages and sounds roaming throughout the stream. In fact, this album has such a thick rawness to it that old school black metal fans could easily be vacuumed into it. As far as darkly droning albums go, this record does have a good amount of enjoyability to it, simply for its investing atmosphere.

Sadly, this album isn't without its problem. The starting track, "Flesh from Bone," is a tad boring. Even though it is the shortest song out of the tracklist (It goes for seventeen minutes, while the other two are over twenty minutes long), it feels as though it drags on for a borderline eternity. This is because the track has a serious lack of depth and dynamic that keeps it engaging. Even the others occasionally tend to fall into this trap, because even as very atmospheric songs, they don't warrant much attention because of how they sometimes have no progression. This issue, while it certainly doesn't destroy the album, it is quite significant and distracting.

All in all, "Regnum Saturni" is a rather solid ambient black metal album. The mix between the atmospheric metal and drone, although unfortunately miles from perfection, is quite intriguing, and the formula does lend itself to having some likability. Fans of raw black and atmospheric metal may take pleasure in listening to this album, though it isn't essential. The shortcoming from earlier, however, is sadly a glaring one. If the songs had a little more sense of dynamic and progression, it would have resulted in a stellar release. However, if the next album irons out these issues, then the metal community can expect something even more hypnotic.

Originally posted on:

Fell Voices - Regnum Saturni - 85%

FleshMonolith, May 3rd, 2013

With their third album, Regnum Saturni, U.S. black metal act Fell Voices find themselves playing into abstracts and delving deeper into ritualistic chaos with their brand of droning black metal. The album was recorded live, a trait that means a lot to me, not only in the band's character, but also in the band's sheer sonic power as it translates well and gives off a powerful, bestial aura that works well to highlight the mood of the album. Unlike previous efforts, Fell Voices dedicate the first breath to a spoken sample by poet Mary Oliver, a poem which sets the thematic tone of the album and ties into the album's title and mythos. Gone are the repetitive and intricate melodies of the their last LB and instead the band uses tremolo riffing and black metal stylings to create a sort of drone that doesn't shamble, but rather blurs.

"Flesh From Bone," the album's opener is a chaotic and dissonant piece that's sprinkled with distant and sometime barely audible yells. The track is dense and demands the listener to work through the intangible riffing and buzzing drums to pick out the subtle ebbs and identify the mood of the vocals. Beginning the album and connecting each track is a hypnotic harmonium pattern which is relaxing, yet engaging and offers a respite from the harsh pulses of each track. This was a jarring departure from my expectations as the pacing and style rejects pleasantries and relies on rhythmic repetition and fevered screaming to draw the listener in.

"Emergence" plays into more pleasing territory with a somewhat "melodic" riff that has a less dissonant tone. The track rumbles and breaks, giving space to the motion but furthering the momentum and energy of the track. "Dawn" Solidifies this development as it's the least demanding of the three and makes use of more pleasant and less harsh sounds. This is black metal played at such a pace and stride that the speed seems moot and it's the hypnotic flow that takes over. The last two tracks offer more comfort to your pedestrian black metal fan as it's not a swirling muck of blast beats and distortion like "Flesh From Bone."

The album's title, Saturn's Kingdom, the introductory poem clip, each song's unique character, and the choice for the album to be split in thirds all connect to the theme of Saturn Return as well as the Roman god of mixed natures. Each track is connected with the same harmonium line and they become more refined and less chaotic and aggressive as the album plays on. Each track is a movement of life; "Flesh From Bone" representing early childhood and adult life, "Emergence" representing maturity, and "Dawn" showing old age. Early on things are lost and aimless, voices blend into abstract guitars and the drums rage endlessly. It is only until "Emergence" do the guitars find space to become recognizable and the song structure eases off to give the listener space. "Dawn" ends with distant, isolated yells, no harmonium, and this signals the end; death. Saturn Return focuses on roughly 3 phases in which the orbit of Saturn ties into a person's life, signaling a new stage of life for them. The album's flow mimics this and makes strong use of this allusion and symbolism.

I like the character, the depth, and the theme of this album. It's engaging and contemplative, yet deceptively simple and not hung up on a loose concept. Where many bands seek to develop and complicate their sound as they continue to record new music, Fell Voices mature through distillation and honing in on what's really powerful; in this way Regnum Saturni succeeds in its poetic and emotional character. What it lacks stylistically and melodically it makes up for in atmosphere and emotion. Fell Voices's output from 2010 is still my favorite, but Regnum Saturni flows so well and is a new page I can't help but revisiting over and over and over again.

Originally written for

Black metal / noise destined for cult status - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, April 21st, 2013

With "Regnum Saturni", their third album, Fell Voices move into more flowing and abstract black metal noise territory. Paradoxically perhaps, this is the first album of theirs that is not simply named after the band or left untitled; additionally, the songs now also bear titles which together suggest a theme of transformation from a lower level of existence to a higher one. Listeners may well be divided over this release: whereas previous releases had definite melodies and riffs, this album may come across as unstructured and intangible, and the music appears deliberately difficult and remote.

All three tracks are long and on the double LP version each takes up one side of the record. This means that Side D contains nothing at all. (One would think at least it might have an interesting recording of forest bird and insect noises.) The first track "Flesh from Bone" tiptoes in quietly and suddenly plunges listeners into a roaring whirlwind of sharp guitar noise which pulses with a grinding chainsaw rhythm all its own. Vocals can barely be heard unless they are wailing or screeching in agony. Yet the music isn't an endless self-indulgent exercise in black metal noise drone and chaos; there is change from noise and anguish to passages of stillness and solitude, dark though they are. However such interludes are soon swept aside by more scourging music from which lead guitar riffs might arise and glimmer briefly before they are engulfed in the fierce storms.

We segue into the second track "Emergence" from the first with the faintest of breaks but the mood and energy level remaining low and restrained. Again we are tossed into a long extended black metal noise drone world, one featuring a wavering feedback drone and constant repetitive drumming. The effect can be very hypnotic even though the mood is far from serene: in fact it's aggressive and hostile. Voices scream in pain and torment continuously, guitars wobble as if sharpening their strings and the percussion continues its banging rhythm without rest. This time there's no let-up, no rest from the torture. Towards the end, the percussion becomes more thunderous and emphatic, voices still scream and the heaving guitars hang over the track.

"Dawn" is a powerful thundering track of attacking percussion and denser than ever clouds of black metal guitar. Whining guitar drone, rousing drums, more howling and screaming voices and that ever-present boiling guitar noise atmosphere all fill your brain from end to end. This is a highly suffocating experience. Although the music overall doesn't stray from the very straight and very narrow, there's enough variation in its details to keep some, if not most, listeners tagging along. The best moments come in the last few minutes of the track: the drumming consists of thunderous rolls, the screaming becomes unearthly and the shuddering guitars assume a quieter air as gradually the track loses its pent-up fury.

The album can be an exhausting experience to hear all the way through and perhaps there was no need for it to be so long at 61 minutes. The introductions and codas don't need to be as long as they are, since they are joined up and have only the slightest of breaks. What is most impressive about this work is its raging intensity and the musicians' utmost dedication to their craft. They obviously don't care about pandering to all their fans' preferences; the music is relentlessly single-minded and its scope is very narrow. The band that springs to mind as a point of comparison is Nadja whose music in the past has been similarly noisy, intense and powerful if unvarying.

While I like this album I can see it enjoying only limited success among Fell Voices' fans. It seems destined for cult status which would seem more fitting for a recording of its intensity and power.