Monday, 26 April 2010

Fell Voices - Fell Voices (2009) 90/100.

In my experience, black and drone hybrids often end in complete disaster. I always thought the idea was to balance the scales aiming not to tip it in favour of one genre, or another; to omit the lesser aspects of a genre and to tap into the source which makes each respective genre a success. In the case of Fell Voices, they do this and more. Not only do they breach the drone barrier of metal music in order to meld it with the uncompromising ways of black metal, but they also associate themselves with doom, a genre closely related to drone. Fell Voices, a three-piece band with ties to the Cascadian underground movement, are working hard to establish themselves in a section of black metal from the United States which also includes the likes of Skagos -- a justifiably highly rated band. With the likes of Skagos as competition, Fell Voices have had to mount an offensive, to force a pre-emptive strike upon the genres audience by beginning in blistering fashion, at a fast pace -- something which I had not expected of a band who dealt with drone.

More often than not black/drone hybrids tend to be very repetitive, which Fell Voices can be at times, but more to the point, very, very, painstakingly slow. Fell Voices, on the other hand, begin this full-length, which consists of two lengthy untitled songs, with an assault. The music is fast, it’s distorted, it’s chaotic. Quite often the feel of the record can be surmised by the word “energetic”. Unlike a lot of drone bands, or even drone hybrids, the atmosphere can be very slow going. However, in regards to Fell Voices, after the initial few seconds of silence, there is a blistering pace set down for a prolonged period of time. The bass is audible throughout, which surprised me, the percussion focuses mainly on the usual double bass blasts and constantly crashing cymbal work and the guitars come in a layered stylistic approach, which adds more variety to the album. This isn’t what I’ve come to expect of such a hybrid act. Instead of building slowly and cleanly, the short introduction to the song is smashed to pieces by the mighty fist of Fell Voices in the form of fast paced drumming and tremolo riffs.

My experience of the Cascade movement told me prior to listening to Fell Voices’ debut full-length that they would be a band who submerged their sound in the idyllic beauty of the Cascade region, which extends from British Colombia to Northern California but, instead of doing this, the threesome have opted for a more unique take on the areas surroundings by quickly scaling the unnerving heights of the local mountains and rocketing themselves into space at the speed of light. Akin to various well known European bands -- like Darkspace --- Fell Voices use a hazy production and a forceful amount of distortion to project their themes at the start. Thankfully, unlike Darkspace, whom I do adore when the mood strikes, Fell Voices have a far more layered approach, drawing my mind back to the American scene and bands like Panopticon, a one man folksy black metal who uses dense production values and a penetrative percussion section over the top of the pivotal guitars.

Like Panopticon, Fell Voices debut has a really energetic feel to it with the bass, or at least I think it’s the bass, coming in a bouncy form beneath the layered guitars. This is something which extends into the second song and though I don’t consider it to be as extraordinary as the first, it still manages to maintain the feeling that the bass is an integral aspect. It isn’t just buried beneath the guitars and forgotten about. It triumphantly rises above the distortion to be used as a main supply as, three or four minutes into track two, the bass is leading the procession until the vocals storm into the affair like a hurricane, leaving its trail of destruction behind. The bass sparks up a whirlwind like sound beneath the atmosphere, giving the album a juxtaposed feeling to it -- on the one hand it can sound reasonably aquatic with the bouncy bass and layered guitar approach, with the main guitar providing several soaring solos. On the other hand it provides a spacey feel to it and I just like spacey black metal. It’s that ambiance that gives it this feel and five minutes into the first song we are given a brief introduction to this sound.

It’s frightening. It’s difficult to explain, but when it comes to transcendental black metal like this, I love it when the atmosphere reminds me of my favourite horror, or sci-fi movies. The atmosphere, at certain points, is like that during the first Alien movie. It’s intense and you can feel the intensity eerily creeping up behind you as it prepares to scare the living shit out of you. The vocals are aptly displayed and though they vary from deep growls and grunts to rasps, each approach can meet the demands of the creepy atmosphere. The atmosphere can be claustrophobic at times, akin to the ambiance that takes place on the Lurker of Chalice full-length, particularly at eight minutes into the first song when the guitars begin to spiral and the feedback creates a truly miserable dense atmosphere. With the rain samples in the background, the music begins to dictate the listeners mood as the song slows down to a gradual grind. It moves like a long, intense movie -- cautiously and slowly. It knows it has the power to manipulate its surroundings and scare its inhabitants, but it also likes to know it can do this at any point it chooses.

With ten minutes having flown by, the atmosphere feels like it’s trudging along when in fact the layered guitars are still as fast as ever, but the vacuum like effect of the atmosphere is sucking us into a false sense of security. Soon enough, the bombastic Panopticon like atmospheric tendency is back and we’re treated to a stylistic approach close to what Disembowelment achieved with their fast-paced death/doom hybrid. The mountainous region would become the sole inspiration behind the bands that dabbled in the Cascade movement, but Fell Voices take their sound beyond the realms of humanity and into the deep vacuum of space that exists freely above and below the Earth. As I stated before, there are some repetitive moments, but a large portion of the song writing is creative. Both songs aren’t dictated by traditional standards and though elements like tremolo riffs and blast beats do exist, they don’t feel like they domineer within the sound of Fell Voices. Instead, the atmosphere generated by the layered approach, fresh feel to the song writing and the use of several key techniques -- like the bouncy bass and ambient textures -- gives this full-length a certain amount of free reign. A non-conformist type of album, this won’t appeal to everyone. It isn’t always that accessible due to the wall-of-sound approach, but those who do love it, will do so with an intense passion.

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