Voices - Frightened

British progressive black/death metal band Akercocke left me in suspension right after I got into them, as they announced their hiatus after their excellent 2007 album, Antichrist. Their avant-garde take on black/death metal, along with their Savile Row image, left a mark on my then-very impressionable mind as I embarked on the arduous journey that is extreme metal.

Fortunately, along with the (seeming) demise of the band in 2012, drummer David Gray decided to carry on his blackened journey with a new project, Voices, bringing along with him compatriot bassist/vocalist Peter Benjamin. The musical style of Voices, while being somewhat reminiscent of the material of Akercocke, brought in a more experimental edge. While I enjoyed that weirdness of Akercocke, Voices lost me with their first two full length releases, From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain, and London, which were chock full of chaos.

Last year, Akercocke made a surprising return with their first full length in a decade, Renaissance in Extremis, continuing the darkness that they left with fans on Antichrist, albeit with a more polished production. A year later, Voices follows up with their third full length album, Frightened. It’s said that the third time’s a charm, and with the positive experience with Akercocke’s latest in mind, I decided to give Frightened a chance at hopefully leaving an impression. Would this leave me (ironically) pleasantly surprised or disappointed?

*face palm* – not!

Kicking off the album with Unknown, one may be forgiven for mistaking Frightened as yet another Akercocke release. The single notes picked on the guitars (reminding me of Axiom, my first Akercocke exposure), down to the clean vocals of Peter Benjamin (who also did clean vocals on Antichrist’s closer Epode all reek of Akercocke. But the thing that really did it for me is the drumming style of David Gray, and the tom fills that are so signature of his playing style.

But Voices stand their ground as a separate act stylistically, as they incorporate more progressive, and atmospheric elements in their material. A departure from the abrasive sound of their first two albums, Frightened sees the band experimenting more with the ambient aspect of their songwriting, conjuring the full range of negativity through the atmospherics. The layering of demented shrieks beneath the clean vocals that are so prominently featured, backed by the dissonant riffs and disjointed time signatures certainly helps in sending constant chills down the listener’s spine as well. Even softer moments on the album — with the exception of the almost post-black metal sounding finale Footsteps featuring violins and the whole shebang — such as the first half of IWSYA isn’t particularly soothing or comforting, instead bringing with it a disturbing vibe.

It is also this high emphasis of the softer sections that make the moments of pure aggression so cathartic — as heard on Home Movies, where one feels that indulgent sense of satisfaction the moment Peter Benjamin unleashes his growls after the prolonged suppression of rage and anger.

Atmospherics and theatrics aside, the musicianship on the album is not compromised at all as the band masterfully incorporates different moods and styles into a single track, often accompanied by sudden shifts in time signatures and rhythm to create a jarring effect on the listener. For instance, Evaporated sees the band putting the listener through a completely disconcerting experience for the first half of the track with that almost staccato riffing, before easing it off slightly towards the end of the track with a more melodic segment.

The ingenious of Voices is also observed when tracks are broken down into their individual elements; the playing of each instrument can get rather simple and straightforward, like on Funeral Day and the simple piano featured in its background. Yet put together, the compositions take on lives of their own – proving that simplicity sometimes makes for the most elegant and effective solution.

Right off the bat, Akercocke, and later Voices, have set themselves apart from their competition in writing unique, progressive music. Frightened as a record is no different, and further showcases the versatility of Voices when compared to their past releases. With Frightened, I have been convincingly converted into a fan of Voices.

Bullet – Dust to Gold

It seems that old school heavy metal revival is in full swing in Sweden. Bands such as Enforcer, and VOJD (formerly Black Trip) have grown their fanbase considerably since their humble beginnings, and even legendary musicians have gone on to worship the old school through projects like The Dagger. Since 2001, this has been the modus operandi of Bullet, and this year the band drops their sixth full-length album, Dust to Gold, after a four year wait.

The first time I encountered Bullet was with their 2014 release Storm of Blades, after going on about The Dagger‘s debut in the same year, and Enforcer‘s Death By Fire a year earlier (which admittedly, took me quite a while to digest and get hooked on). Each of the bands presented different tributes to various styles of old school heavy metal, with Enforcer taking on a speed metal approach, and The Dagger a more hard rock, Deep Purple-esque style. Bullet on the other hand manages to strike a nice balance between the two similar, yet rather vastly different styles, resulting in a release that is catchy as fuck, yet stands out from their compatriots.

With Dust to Gold, the band continues in their musical direction. Album opener brings back the familiar screechy vocals of Hell Hofer, that sounds like a cross between the screams of Rob Halford and the soprano of King Diamond. Immediately one is brought back to the glory days of 80s heavy metal, and the riffs that guitarists Alexander and Hampus unleash easily reminds us of the work of bands like Judas Priest, or more recently, White Wizzard. Every element that is included on the album screams old school, from the hard-hitting drums, to the duelling lead guitar solos, or the gang-shouts on songs like Highway Love. The inclusiveness of their musical influences even includes Black Sabbath and their titular Heaven and Hell on the title track, easily discernible through the Tony Iommi-inspired riffs, and Geezer Butler-esque bass lines. Hell, even the rather simple and cheesy lyrical themes on the aforementioned track, or opener Speed and Attack fit so well with the accompanying music that one can’t help but find himself grinning at the, erm, cheesiness.

While the material on Dust to Gold mostly sounds similar to what the band has put out thus far, they have seem to toned down a little bit in the speed department, and most tracks on the album take on a mid-pace. This isn’t to say that the music isn’t any less entertaining, as the band still manages to include catchy hooks with ease in their writing, though perhaps including a ballad would have made Dust to Gold a perfect old-school tribute album. If you love and miss the old school of Judas Priest, Loudness, with the swagger of Motörhead, Dust to Gold is one record that should not be missed.

Gaerea – Unsettling Whispers

The huge influx of extreme metal bands has made it rather hard for new bands to truly stand out. While more established bands have continued releasing a string of high quality releases, newer bands tend to find it difficult to leave their mark on the genre – that is, until I heard Portuguese black metal band Gaerea and their excellent debut full length album, Unsettling Whispers.

Bands like Schammasch and Batushka had already taken lead in the aesthetics department, with the latter in particular looking to be a fun band to watch live with the entire ritualistic getup. Gaerea joins the ranks of these bands in terms of their visual appeal, though it seems that it is for the entire experience rather than anonymity that the band seeks.

Album opener Svn gives a hint towards the mood and atmosphere that the band leans towards, and while it is hardly heavy nor noisy, the ambient that the band manages to create is dark and disturbing, aided by the indecipherable, desolate shrieks and vocals at the background. Things take a much heavier turn the moment Absent kicks off, and it is here where comparisons to Schammasch and Batushka becomes obvious. Right from the get go, the riffs take on a black/death metal vibe that is similar to the works of Schammasch or Behemoth. Yet the music is constantly shrouded in a suffocating atmosphere, though not as primitive nor cavernous as the ones on Batushka‘s Litourgiya, remains equally dark and ominous.

On Unsettling WhispersGaerea explores the entire spectrum of negativity, and often swings between complete desperation and hopelessness, and anger and aggression. Each tracks is intense in its own right, and the band often alternates between an emotional riff, to one of utter destruction, backed by the relentless battery on the drums. This is accentuated by the stellar production on the album, where everything is extremely clear and the listener is constantly buried under a barrage of sound, making the entirety of Unsettling Whispers an engaging listen.

If one wants black metal that is devoid of hope or light, Unsettling Whispers is one album that comes highly recommended, with the coherent fusion of crushing aggression and melancholic, melodic sadness all in one album.

MUWW Special: Interview with Truth Be Known

Local death/thrash/grind band Truth Be Known has over the years come to be known for their energetic and engaging live performances. This year the band joins the roster of the inaugural Metal United World Wide to once again bring joy, fun, laughter, and moshing to local metalheads. We catch up with vocalist Subash to have a short chat.

Hey Subash, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I understand from the band’s Facebook page that there is a new album currently in plans this year. Could you tell us more about the new album?

Hello everyone. Yup, there will be a new album coming out this year. Our third album and it will be entitled Equal in the Pit. We got about 15 songs ready so far. Our bassist, Josh (who writes all of the music) still has a few more up his sleeve so we gonna get that ready as well. It will probably be 16 originals and 2 covers. I know 18 songs sounds like macham we recording “Use your Illusions” like that but our songs are quite short, so it balances out, I think. Hahahahaha.

We will be recording full on in the month of June. Hopefully everything will be ready by August earliest. But then again we can be real cheebyes and change everything. Hahahahaha. But fret not, cheebye or not we will definitely release the album this year. Confuckfirm. (Which also happens to be the title of one of our new songs by the way).

Interestingly you guys have actually came out with a specific sub-genre of your own, termed “funcore”. Could you tell us how this term came about? 

This one also quite cheebye, I tell you. We played a gig at Parklane Mall years ago. As usual, we were all pissed drunk. RazorTV interviewed us. Before this, Josh and I always used to joke about different sub-genre titles like mathcore (knn, what’s next Pythagoras’ Theorem Metal ah), this core, that core and all and we should for the fuck of it, give ourselves a sub-genre title. So when RazorTV asked us what kind of music do we play? I replied drunkenly, “Funcore”. And that’s how it stuck. Good thing, I didn’t say the other title, we were thinking of. Tehcore (underwear in Hokkien).

He did find God after all. It was Tony Leung Chiu Wai.

In March, the band happened to have some minor line-up changes, with Vinod coming on-board. How did that come about?

Yea, guitarists also can be cheebyes. Hahahaha no lah just kidding. We’ve had a few changes with our guitarists. Damien left because he wanted to find God. Lyon Chua of Stillborn took over and he left when he found out the more we drank, the more naked we got. He wasn’t cut out for that shit. Brandon of Witchseeker then took over. It was like a young Damien but with hairless legs. But when he saw us naked and realised how hairy we all were, he was horrified and left. So Vinod came along. Fella could play the guitar, talk cock, drink and has hairy legs. He pretty much fit the bill. Oh yeah, Damien will be playing for us at the Metal United World Wide gig. He did find God after all. It was Tony Leung Chiu Wai.

The real God

Personally I have watched Truth Be Known live for couple of times, and one thing that always impressed me is the intensity of the band throughout the set. As a band that has performed over 10 years, does the band have any pre-performance rituals before going onstage? How does the band keep up with the physical demands of your live performances?

We have been doing this for about 13 years now and it’s like we “Benjamin Button” the shit out of every gig. The more gigs we play the younger we get. All this works because of our pre-ritual before a set. Back then, we used to rub each other with Kong Hee’s anointed oil before going up on stage. It worked out fine till our drummer, Gene started talking with a Jamaican accent and demanded to drink wine from China instead of Tiger Beer. Josh and I were having none of that shit. So we switched from Kong Hee’s anointed oil to Johnson’s baby oil (Smell nicer). Gene went back to Singlish and Tiger beer and we never looked back.

As we get older, it does get harder to keep up with the intensity but as long as there is love and appreciation in what we are doing, we will always fucking go all out. Plus getting drunk helps a lot.

TBK unleashing funcore in Vietnam, 2017

The band has performed in numerous countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia. Were there any memorable shows that still give you goosebumps till this day?

We have played quite a bit. For last year alone, the Vietnam gig and the Hammersonic gig were memorable to us. Those gigs were loud, fast and intense as fuck. We had to rub extra oil that day.

We had to rub extra oil that day.

Unfortunately, we didn’t play any gigs in Singapore last year. So for the upcoming one this Friday, I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be a memorable one for us as well.

The local metal scene has seen a surge of international bands coming by our shore in recent years, such as Death Angel’s and At the Gates’ show on 6 May, which is organised by Street Noise Productions. Having been in the scene for a while now, as a fellow metalhead and musician, what’s your take on today’s local metal scene?

I think it’s great and we are lucky to see so many bands which we listen to when we were young. Kudos to our Singaporean organisers who bring all these bands for us to watch. Mad respect to these guys lah.

As for our local metal scene, I have nothing but love. There are so many really good Singaporean bands that can and are capable of kicking TBK’s asses anytime. Well, musically they can but when it comes to drinking, we are like gods. No one can beat us. Besides the bands, there are so many youngsters of different races and culture coming to watch gigs now and that’s really wonderful. It truly is a good time to be a Singaporean metalhead now. Enjoy the music and the shows that come by.

This Saturday’s show is definitely one of the biggest shows featuring 11 local bands, and bands like Bastardized and Meltgsnow making their long-awaited return to the live circuit. What can fans expect from TBK?

TBK is a well “oiled” machine after all and as usual we will go all out.110%. We will be playing some new songs from the upcoming album. We hope you guys will like them plus the usual crowd favourites as well. If you have never been to a TBK show and don’t know what the fuck we are playing. You can check us out at Truth Be Known on Spotify. However watching us live is a whole new ball game, so be prepared. You’re definitely gonna love it.

Any last words for your fans for this Saturday’s show?

Don’t be a cheebye and support your scene. See you on the 5th. Cheers!

Catch Truth Be Known, and many other quality Singaporean bands this May 5 at the inaugural, Singapore edition of the Metal United World Wide. More details at this location.

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