“Reflections of the Void” is Question’s Answer to Forgettable Death Metal
This one very nearly slipped through the cracks. The reasons for this are entirely to do with the mechanics of writing about music rather than any fault of this group or record -- even with your ear to the ground, listening to promos and scouring Metal Archives and perusing YouTube, there are still a seemingly unending number of labels, bands, records and songs and ultimately only a finite amount of time in the day, especially if you want to really absorb what you write about.
This is a frankly unfair hurdle for smaller groups and smaller labels, doubly so for those stationed outside of the ring of immediate interest to critics, publications and, to be frank once again, America and Europe. We all do what we can to overcome this hurdle; after all, the history of heavy metal is one littered with countless examples of non-white, non-Western bands, minuscule labels, and obscure releases not just being great (as many of them are) but inevitably becoming seminal works.
But even with all of these efforts, some albums can very narrowly slip through the fingers. It's a sad fact of a world where (quite thankfully) the production of quality art is both a global endeavor and one that seems to be resistant in some ways to the fluctuations of the material conditions of the world. The art-making capacity of humanity seems as inherent as breathing and eating, one that is resistant to easy categorizations like a pure political or social impulse given how it seems to arise almost as a pre-psychological condition of being, a natural extension of being in the world rather than being purely a responsive act within the context of history.
What this means, of course, is that there will always be a gem somewhere, always something worthwhile out there.
And boy howdy is Reflections of the Void by Question worthwhile. The combination of the cover art and the intriguing group name is an immediate tip off that things may become exciting. I'm not one to decry the standard imagery of heavy metal, but it's hard to deny the draw of psychedelic vistas in blue and purple, the shocking white space as deployed here, or the surreal beauty of the golden mountain behind. Sure, the tentacular limbs and fields of gore and insects may touch on heavy metal cliches, but between the color palette and the framing, it suddenly feels new again, a subtle but definitive shift from the expected. This sense, a refreshed and lightly psychedelic coloration to old-school death metal, perfectly describes what the album delivers, and that keen interplay of sound and image helps the record solidify into more of a cohesive syncretic whole rather than a slate of new songs with some gore slapped on the cover.
Question's approach to death metal sits alongside other OSDM acts, at least in terms of its inspiring sources, but their approach feels closer in execution to Death than some of the Entombed worship we've seen. There is no shortage of brutality on these tracks, but likewise there is rarely a riff devoid of that same keen sense of melody Schuldiner and his bandmates would make sure to work in. The strange chords Question land their riffs give a melodic sensibility that tilts this material away from the occasional sense of bleary-eyed beatdown-driven extremism of certain more brutal wings of death metal while not capitulating to the occasional eye-rolling cheese festivals that melodeath at its worst can bring.
The result is a set of songs that are, dare I say, catchy, where even after only one or two listens you can find yourself air drumming and humming right along with the riffs despite their odd time signatures and strange voicings. We sometimes overlook this aspect in the proggier and more technical wings of the genre, as well as the more brutal, but death metal is ultimately largely a type of body music: that sense of immediate physical connection to the material that comes from being rhythmically or melodically catchy adds value especially when considering the long-term lifespan of a record.
There is a great deal of color across these riffs, little splashes of psychedelic and proggy purples and golds against the earthtone chthonic rumble of death metal, but never at the expense of the immediacy of the songs. Question's roster are clearly virtuosic but, more importantly, bend that virtuosity toward the song, deploying their high-minded chords and melodies in a way that feels enriching rather than distracting. This is often the sticking point for most people when death metal veers toward the technical, progressive or psychedelic: often it can feel like the players involved care more about their performance in some invisible contest of inscrutability and density rather than evaluating what the phenomenological impact of all of it will be, how it will feel to an uninitiated listener in some immediate sense. .
Question never get too flighty, always grounding more abstract riffs with a punishing and direct one, never letting the few instrumental tracks overstay their welcome. There is a remarkable sense of balance over this album, each element in its right place; Reflections of the Void is ultimately a death metal record, and death metal in its myriad colors takes center stage, but those colorful dalliances are sprinkled at just the right amount, intensity, and interval to keep the riffing and shouting we came for feeling fresh and reinvigorated.
This sense of compositional balance extends beyond the edges of the song to the overall structure of the record: eight tracks in under 40 minutes, with two instrumentals at tracks three and seven, effectively creating three contained bursts of heavy metal. The astute pacing and balance over the span of the album makes everything immediately digestible, intensifying the impact of the songs especially on future playthroughs after that first jaw-dropping one. What's more, the record ending on a fade-out in the midst of a wild and truly unhinged solo, something I normally would absolutely despise, feels perfect here.
I instinctively reach over and press play the very second the track ends. I can't end an album on a fadeout! And during a solo, no less! Are you crazy?! And, given its contained and wisely rationed runtime, I'm more than willing to sit through it again.
The indefatigability of the record comes not just from the overall shape of the songs, which are fantastic, but also a combination of the arrangement and production. The group is willing not to overcrowd their songs or make them too notey for its own sake. Some bands make compelling use of that sense of being psychically overwhelmed by the sheer Coltrane-esque cascade of notes, but far too many groups often have that method turn against them, making the eyes glaze over as what feels like an aimless and uneconomical usage of musical time covers up a lack of clear compositional thought in the riffs and song structures.
Not so with Question. They have faith, well-earned and well-given, that their melodic and harmonic ideas are compelling enough to enable them to leave space, space which is aided by deft production which keeps the songs feeling light and airy, almost more like a jazz record than a metal album. Your ears don't feel constantly assaulted by every frequency in the playable range of your headphones, pummeled by choked out frequencies that are compressed to shit until they're lifeless. There is a level of care put into the mix on Reflections of the Void that is paid off in spades when it emerges from your speakers, a sense of life and breath to it all that keeps it dynamic and rich rather than the typical over-compressed muddy messes we are sometimes saddled with.
This mix, in turn, allows those vibrant colors and intriguing chordal and melodic choices pop out, giving the higher-register harsh vocals more room for character and, joy of joys, lets the drums feel rich and full rather than a series of dull farting thuds.
Mexico is, of course, no stranger to truly elite-tier death metal, being home to both Cenotaph and The Chasm, two of the absolute best the genre has ever produced. And yet often Central and South America get overlooked by critics and listeners both when it comes to death metal, especially the current exciting creative bubble of OSDM bands reinvigorating the style that we've seen over the past five or so years now. I would comfortably put Reflections of the Void and Question as a band alongside the likes of Tomb Mold and Blood Incantation.
The focus isn't on being undefinable or revolutionary, but instead there's an unshakable fixation on composition, the all-important soundfield, and a holistic sense of cohesion and color. This is the type of album that makes a band worthy of remembering. Let's see to it that we do.
Reflections of the Void released July 31st via Chaos Records.