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Voices – London

I’ll say this about London, the new concept album by UK blackened death metal outfit Voices: it’s the most apt pairing of album name and band name I can think of this year. The album chokes the listener with a cacophony of human voices, from shrieks to grunts, clean singing and monologues from both men and women. It’s as diverse, populated, and claustrophobic as the London which the lyrics obsess over, a city full of hiding places between sharp opposing surfaces. The characters in the narrative are constantly moving through alleys and archways. The iconic Cold Harbour Lane even makes an appearance, and the very geometry of urban living is reflected in the album’s angular and compressed guitar work, precision drumming, and atmospheric electronics. If that sounds like an awful lot to digest, and not entirely comfortable to listen to, well, so is city living.

Claustrophobia is key here, and while the underground seems to be shying away from slick, modern sounds in favor of more pastoral and earthy sounds, London is as evocative of its namesake as any given US folk-black group might be of middle America, though it doesn’t particularly make me want to hop on a flight to the UK. That said, the labyrinthine sonic tapestry that Voices are weaving on this album is one I’ve found myself drawn to more than a few times.

And Voices has been weaving for quite some time, even though their first record under this moniker only dropped last year. The band was formed by two remaining members of British blackened death outfit Akercocke, a band whose output I indulged in around the same time as I was discovering Behemoth and Belphegor, both bands which also released worthy records this year. Indulgent is a great word for talking about Akercocke—the group differentiated themselves from their sex-and-Satan obsessed peers by being immaculately dressed, giving stellar interviews, and playing with more sonic elements than their contemporaries. Still, Akercocke were a blue-balling band. They never quite got me off, though I always knew they had the potential to do so. On London, guitarist/vocalist Peter Benjamin and drummer David Gray finally give up the goods.

A sprinkling of prog influences perfects the Akercocke formula. Where Behemoth are trying to sound ancient, Gray and Benjamin sound unabashedly modern, mixing some light Meshuggah-isms with the occasional acoustic interlude, and clean vocals reminiscent of early period Solefald. That is to say, the cleans are overwrought and dryly intoned, reminiscent of musical theater, but delivering pretentiousness and portents in equal measure. “Music for the Recently Bereaved” blasts and groove with equal aplomb, while “The Fuck Trance,” (featured below) juxtaposes rhythmic electronic pulses with impassioned vocals and broken piano melodies, each set to drumming with the merciless efficiency of a Sybian machine—at a point in time, all the sensory overload becomes pure catharsis. Most importantly, London feels like a cohesive work. The next song begins before the last song break on the MP3, and the spoken word pieces roughly divide the story of this concept album into three acts.

Not that I’m entirely sure what the concept is. After repeated listens I know only that it concerns the nature of being an artist, the experience of living in the titular city, and a woman. 

Megan. If the album had another title it would be Megan. A woman repeats her name over and over until it becomes a mantra, and then an electronic loop—a functioning piece of the sound’s mechanics—on the song bearing her name. I found myself asking questions less about the nature of art and more about who this character is. Presumably she’s an unsavory lover—the song “Last Train Victoria Line” consists of an extended series of questions: “Do you ever think of him when you’re fucking me?” These interrogatives are met by throat-curdling screams, in a sort of call-and-response not unlike what Eminem employed in the song “Kill You.”

The band members have a track record of nonviolent, though distracting, misogyny. In the music video to the Akercocke song “Leviathan,” the band sits in lavish chairs, enjoying a striptease while the song’s chorus implores “I wish to be alone with my god.” The disconnect between music and narrative bugged me then as it bugged me now. I assume that I’m meant to think of Megan as some femme fatale—a construct like Amy from David Fincher’s recent thriller Gone Girl, but something about the delivery leads me to believe that if Megan were a real person she might have more in common with Christy Mack or Janay Palmer.

I can’t lay all the blame for this on Voices. The band isn’t responsible for the atmosphere into which they release their album, nor for any baggage of mine which I project onto their work. At the same time, it’s a post-#Gamergate world, and I’m a media journalist. It’s my duty to call it as I see it, and the way I see it a little misogyny is what’s standing in the way of London going from great to excellent. The album is harrowing, evocative, and full of ideas—mostly good ones. It’s even a strong argument that modern production isn’t completely played-out. I like it enough that I agreed to premiere “The Fuck Trance” below. Here Voices are, convincing me to say nice things alongside my misgivings. Something tells me they’d like that—it’s in the spirit of London. Or maybe, like the Megan that some of the lyrics portray, I just like a real bad good time.

—Joseph Schafer

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