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Strident - 95%

dommedagssalme, January 10th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Candlelight Records

When Akercocke (thankfully temporarily) disbanded in 2012, I was pretty dismayed. Since hearing The Goat of Mendes, I had become very fond indeed of their particular brand of death/black metal, and had/have followed their output obsessively since. They were doing something that unlike unlike any other band. Without sounding particularly unorthodox, the members had been able to harness wonderful songwriting and musicianship and a fascinating aesthetic to conjure a multifaceted beast which was variously (and often simultaneously) vicious, bleak, introspective and intelligent. I mourned their passing, resigning myself to frequent visits to their rich discography.

The following year, I heard tell of Voices, an altered beast, rising from the some of Akercocke's ashes, who were being referred to as something of a "spiritual successor" to that king which had long reigned over the UK extreme metal scene. I was sceptical, but just the chance to hear drummer David Gray again was enough to get me half on-board before I'd even heard them. When I first heard the annoyingly-titled "From the Human Forest Create an Imaginary Fugue of Rain", I was initially (and unjustifiably) miffed at the lack of parallels between the two bands, aside from the immediately familiar and instantly engaging drumming. But since Gray is the only member with any significant history with Akercocke (Peter Benjamin appeared on Antichrist taking up bass duties), this was only to be expected. While there are numerous distinctions to be drawn between the two bands, there was certainly one thing in common; a commitment to the expression of the more abstruse side of human emotion and experience, through as intense a medium as possible.

It was the attitude driving the record, then, that first struck a chord with me, and which led me to subsequent listens (probably now into triple-digits). This initial fascination then allowed me to further appreciate the numerous intricacies and to experience/absorb the complex array of emotions that the album voices. Another thing that made a significant and lasting impression was the overall sound. The drums are thunderous, while the clear, vicious, viscous guitars carry a wonderful degree of graininess, which together with the adoption of different techniques, makes for a sonic experience of constantly yet delicately shifting textures. I simply adore the guitar tone here (which would be sublimated to more incisive yet less interesting sound on London, and outright replaced by the anaemic, diffident one of Frightened). The riffs are varied, but for the most part alternate between tight, dissonant, irregular patterns and thick, passionate passages (these occasionally and elegantly accompanied by synth).

The bass is ideally mixed, and plays the indispensable role of grounding much of the album's angular discordance, while sensitively and tastefully capitalising on many of the more driving (and frequently melancholic) chord sequences. The bass nails that sweet spot of deferring to the guitars while augmenting them by further deepening the already-singular texture they create. In particular, those transitions from frantic, panic-stricken and disjointed melodic sections to the more propulsive, emotional, chord-based passages (such transitions are numerous) are even more effectively rendered by the bass's booming quality, which seems to permeate all frequency ranges and slightly push through (and also consolidate) all other instruments, creating more sense than sound.

The drums, as I had hoped and expected, are terrific. Their sound is balanced, organic and full. Each hit is powerful and clear, and their execution is passionate, offsetting blistering speed and tumultuous fills with circumspect detail which references the musical component. Gratifyingly, we are on occasion treated to Gray's trademark syncopation, used to great effect to accentuate the turbulent and intricate nature of the guitar interplay, as heard on Dnepropetrovsk, Fragmented Illustrations of Anger and Creating the Museum of Rape. While the album's music is mostly episodic, the drums help lend a palpably organic sense to things. Without fundamentally altering the pulse, they nimbly shift in correspondence to the frequent reinterpretations of the guitars. Several tracks display wonderful economy in the evolution of a riff through re-contextualisation (the result being deeper song definition) and Gray's input has a crucial catalytic effect.

The vocals, largely due to the aforementioned grainy guitar sound, are slightly buried, but this is a non-issue for me, since I find that their ultimate effect (and the album's as a whole) isn't necessarily one of immediacy, but one which only fully emerges by the album's conclusion, when the listener feels drained by the sustained and frenzied onslaught. The lyrics are almost universally screamed with legitimate conviction, in a style which allows just a modicum of the voice to bleed through, resulting in a rather harrowing sense of desperation; one which we hear most clearly expressed on virtually any sequence which allows for a slower, uninterrupted delivery (Sexual Isolation springs to mind). This point allows me to draw a clear distinction between Voices and Akercocke; Peter Benjamin, unlike Jason Mendonca's upper-register shrieks, never sounds "evil". On From the Human Forest... we hear Benjamin's anger, torment and vulnerability, but never does he sound weak or resigned (this development would sadly occur two albums later). Although quite limited and monochromatic, I find his vocal delivery here genuinely affecting, even after so many listens, and most notably during those pummelling, chord-dense, sorrowful sections. Lyrics would appear to be an honest attempt to confront the abysmal anguish of one's own depths. I get the sense of numerous abysses being stared into, but without any real expectation of meaningful catharsis. Identification and relation seems to be most one can expect.

From the Human Forest... is very much of a piece, and hence for me it doesn't boast "highlights" as such. However, it is possible to identify one "fly in the ointment". The track Everything You Believe Is Wrong stands out in its relative blandness and its inability to achieve the vehement pathos present in other tracks. Perhaps it is coincidence that the lyrical perspective is turned outwards to "you", rather than the bulk of the album's preoccupation with the dysfunctional, raging "I". Since this track seems so philosophically and musically tangential, for me, From the Human Forest... is one of those rare albums which would achieve near-perfection from the excision of one of its tracks. The only other track I would note is finale Endless, which constitutes one of the most effective and affecting conclusions to a record I can recall. After a brief, forlorn acoustic intro, we experience a tragic, imperial masterclass in sonic texture and emotional turmoil. The track is structurally near-palindromic, with all instruments pulling the listener in zealous conviction towards the ultimate realisation that we will always end back where we started, without closure. This sense of perpetuity is accentuated by a cyclical lead guitar riff which plays over the primary, protracted chord sequence. Further still, the drumming is executed at such a rate so as to seem simultaneously propulsive and static, creating a dynamic tension which underscores the agonising sense of emotional irresolution.

Perhaps it was naive to hope that Voices would again be able to channel exactly what they were able to with their debut album. Perhaps it wouldn't have been right for them to even try. This album's particular sense of identity, fomented by the consistently traumatic and fervent delivery, the reciprocity of the instrumentation and the ardent, sustained vocal performance, is sadly not one I expect to hear again, but I am grateful that I got to hear it at all.