Imagine a desolate, barren plain. Flakes of ash float down in lazy spirals from a uniformly grey sky, lit faintly by a sinister red glow. In all directions, the horizon is punctuated by looming mountains, each ominously exhaling a twisted wisp of smoke. Suddenly, with a blinding flash, one erupts, spewing a torrent of lava, flame and putrid black fumes into the air. Then, another, and another, and within seconds, infernal geysers are all belching in unison the contents of their guts to smother the land in liquid ruin.
This is what the opening minute of “The Flood,” the first track on Void Ritual’s new album Heretical Wisdom, feels like. A lone guitar arpeggiates in sinister fashion, lulling the listener into what seems like it’s about to be a lengthy, mood-setting interlude. Spoiler: it’s not. Primal cymbal crashes and thunderous chords strike from nowhere in rapid succession, a series of gut punches from a devious unseen foe. Seconds later, another flurry of blows, as a throaty roar signifies that our descent into his personal vision of chaos has truly begun.
Not until nearly three minutes into the song is a rare reprieve finally granted, as primal blast beats and furious tremolo picking yield to a pounding mid-tempo groove. This central eye of the song’s hellish hurricane lingers for all of 16 brief measures before passing over in a whirling frenzy once again. After a final epic crescendo, the song ends with a stark cutoff that leaves the listener feeling disoriented and thoroughly abused, yet undoubtedly longing for more. It’s fortunate that Daniel Jackson, the singular mind behind Void Ritual, has included seven more tracks on his debut full-length release with which to satiate the masochistic beast within.
Riffs and melodies flow languidly over and around each other, resulting in an experience that captivates as it compels the listener to press onward. Driving blasts and relentless tremolo passages intermingle fluidly with frigid leads, straightforward death riffs and the occasional breakdown, a stylistic fusion that in the hands of a lesser songsmith might come across as contrived. With Jackson’s subtle touch, however, even the abrupt time changes so frequently utilized throughout the record are unquestioned as the only natural songwriting choice for their respective moments. His chord progressions and song structures are ravenous in their progression, always surging forward to reach the next theme, riff or transition. While parallels can be drawn both to the dark melodies of hallowed progenitors Satyricon as well as the irrepressible high-end riffing of contemporary experimentalists Krallice, Jackson’s blackened vision remains wholly his throughout the album’s cohesive journey.
Jackson’s vocals, while a clear point of departure from genre norms, remain the most appropriate choice for the music he creates with Void Ritual. His meaty midrange growl would be perfect for pure melodic death metal in the vein of Amon Amarth, Adversary or Mors Principium Est, yet here in this predominantly black metal context, it feels equally well suited. Jackson knows where his strengths lie as a vocalist, his songs touching often on melodic metal themes even as they remain mired in their murky black metal swamp. The heavily reverbed high-pitched howls of many other black metal vocalists are not at all missed, with the style making its sole appearance only in the record’s final minutes.
The listening experience is made all the more pleasant, the layered arrangements more easily admired, thanks to Jackson’s practiced ear in the mixing booth. The guitars are rich and robust, and a healthy dollop of bass tastefully fills out the bottom end so often neglected by others who might be opting for a rawer approach. The drums, while programmed, sound convincing and organic, a combination of skillful mixing and thoughtful attention paid to every note in each of the many diverse beats and fills across the record. It’s clear that Jackson has done his homework when it comes to studying and appreciating the way real drummers approach this style of music – though my personal holy grail for drumming written by a non-drummer still remains that found on the 2014 Invalids album Strengths. Regardless, while many one-man-band black metal projects are hindered by obviously artificial drums, Void Ritual is thankfully spared this malady.
With Heretical Wisdom, Void Ritual delivers massively on the promises made with previous releases. It is a bone-grinding, organ-churning triumph of an album to which I will certainly be returning more than a few times. The third track, “A Mockery Of Flesh & Bone”, is available now for streaming on Throat Productions’ Bandcamp page. Physical releases drop on August 18th thanks to the dual efforts of Throat Productions, handling the CD format, and Tridroid Records on cassette.