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?
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.