Say Hello to the Original* Void
“We’ve reached peak void,” I said to my assistant the other day, over a charcuterie board and a bottle of Mendoza Malbec, at a place where one generally goes to acquire charcuterie boards and bottles of Mendoza Malbec.
“Define ‘peak void’,” she said belatedly, still staring at a Groupon deal for crystal telepathy healing™ on her phone.
“Peak void,” I said, nibbling condescendingly on a wedge of aged asiago, “is the point at which the number of metal bands with the word ‘void’ in their name becomes so great that it shall tip past the cosmological density parameter, leading us to infinite expansion and, eventually, the heat death of the universe.”
“So,” said my assistant, still swiping and staring at her phone (as is her assistantly wont), “bands with the word ‘void’ in their name are leading us into a true void.”
“Well, a Sean Caroll or even a Neil deGrasse Tyson might quibble over the quantum minutia, but essentially yes.”
“Well then,” my assistant said — “you’re not going to like this.”
She turned her phone around to show me the screen, which displayed her email inbox, which was flooded with promo downloads that had been forwarded to us (me) by The Central Office ov the Toilet ov Hell. At the very top of the queue sat a new promo from a band called…
…you guessed it…
Now, dear reader, before you roll your eyes so hard you pull your medial rectus muscle, let me assure you that this Void is no trend-hopping latecomer to the voidapalooza. Sure, the immaculate and infallible arbiter of all that is metal in music, Ecyclopaedia Metallum, a.k.a The Metal Archives, lists 175 bands with the word “void” in their name. And true, out of these 175, a whopping 12 are simply named Void, one of which spells it “Vøid” and another “Vøid (a.k.a Void)“. Be all that as it may, the Void of which I speak is the original Void. [*Technically, the thrash metal Voids from Denmark, Greece, and Lithuania respectively all came first, but none of them exist anymore so we’ll allow it –Ed.]
Who is the oldest extant band called Void?
BUT WHO IS VOID?
The short version is that Void began life as an afterbirth-covered industrial black metal band, way back when that sort of thing was novel and cool. The ravages of time, puberty, and lineup changes saw them grow into a progressive black metal band with no industrial bits whatsoever. More time, a fully-developed frontal lobe, workforce drudgery, debt, and tragedy led to their maturing into…whatever this is:
Kinda looks like Portal fucked Coal Chamber and then, faced with an unplanned pregnancy, chose life — doesn’t it? Thankfully, Void’s current brand of I guess avant-garde deathgrind? does not contain any vestigial sonic expressions of their Portal and Coal Chamber DNA. I mean, with a gun to my nuts I’d have to say they sound a weeeeeeeeee bit closer to Portal than Coal Chamber, but without a gun to my nuts I’d have to say they sound more like Mr. Bungle and Napalm Death practicing in the same room at the same time while the sounds of The Nordic Men’s Chanting Choir in the next room over come bleeding through the walls. Or like when you order a turkey sausage omelet with cheddar cheese but it comes stuffed with creamy-ass goat cheese instead and you’re kind of enraged, kind of sickened, but you’re kind of also like “Oh well YOLO” and you eat it anyway, at which point you discover a gastronomical intolerance to goat cheese which manifests in sudden projectile vomiting and torrential disfunction of your anal containment mechanisms. This is not a bad thing: We’re all just people here and I think we can admit that it in a sick, godless way it feels really good to blow chunks out of both ends at the same time. (Right?)
I think what I’m laboring to say is that while Void is not a post-metal band (they’re arguably more metal now than they’ve ever been) they are certainly post-genre. Last year, they released an EP called The Unsearchable Riches of Void, which contains the lowest levels of black metal they’ve ever achieved. In its place: a virtuoso splicing of extreme metal styles that is hyper, aggressive, and suffering from a serious case of attention deficit disorder. Here, give a listen:
What does it mean that Void’s riches are unsearchable? Why must they taunt us so, wagging their genitals at us as they jeer: “You cannot search our riches. Go ahead and try. It cannot be done.” Why is the first track actually three separate songs in one? What is the relevance of the thinly veiled spoken-word dig at President Trump? What even is gravity? All one needs to answer these questions — or to dispense with them altogether — is to remember that Void is avant-garde. How avante-garde? More avante-garde than you. If your band does not have seasick pirate gang-vocals, you are not as avant-garde as Void. If your band does not jump liberally from blackened tremolos to hardcore d-beats to wanky tech-style rhythms to pagan chanting all within the space of, say, three minutes, you are not as avant-garde as Void. And if your band is not so fucking avant-garde that they can throw in some deathcore breakdowns without even blushing then guess what, puppy: You are nowhere near as avant-fucking-garde as Void.
In the words of the lesser known, non-psycho-murderer Bateman brother: “Rock n’ roll. Deal with it.”
I was talking about DNA a minute ago, wasn’t I? Let’s return to that metaphor. What is the true DNA breakdown of the zany, riff-mongering party metal presented by The Unsearchable Riches of Void? Present-day Void contains only one founding member, mastermind Matt Jarman, and mastermind Matt Jarman compares present-day Void to Converge, Dødheimsgard, and Fleurety. (And grind-era Carcass.) These comparisons are all apt enough — yet they are more than merely convenient. They run deep. Especially when you consider that 1) Void came into being at a time (1999) when the aforementioned DHG and Fleurety and indeed the entirety of the Norwegian metal avant-garde had reached their peak; 2) Void’s original lineup included Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, who did time in DHG and Code; 3) None other than Carl-Michael “Czral” Eide played drums on their demo. With these matters of pedigree in mind, it is no wonder that to this day the bizarre savors of Ved Buens Ende and Code are present in The Unsearchable Riches so long after members of those bands left Void. If only in moments of riffical whimsy, percussive extravagance, or vocal idiosyncrasy, the ghosts of Kvohst and Czral are haunting the living fuck out of this EP.
From the mouth of mastermind Matt Jarman himself:
“I liked The Linear Scaffold. I hated Cradle of Filth . . . I had Written in Waters copied on tape. I didn’t understand it yet but I would soon . . . 1999 was the year for me. Everything changed . . . Dødheimsgard released 666 International. La Masquerade Infernale came out. Even Ulver released a good song (maybe more than one . . .).”
*cough* What? *cough* Maybe more than one? Preposterous, but let us agree that Jarman is wrong and move on. Or let us move back, I should say. Back to 2002, the year that Jarman and McNerney, inspired by a love of weird black metal and a trip to Norway, among so many other things, released this:
Posthuman is Void’s first official release. It is an unsurprising artistic statement in that a lot of black metal bands were going electronic at the time, from Ulver and
Covenant Kovenant to Bethlehem and …and Oceans. What’s surprising, if only in retrospect, is just how black the album is at its core. If you were to yank out the breakbeats and replace them with blasts, you’d have a black metal album that is slightly unorthodox yet not offensively so, brimming with the same kind of cold chords and evil melodies you’ll find on any early Emperor album. And so, while the concept of industrial black metal may be a bit dated, Posthuman‘s grim fusion of hateful darkness and danceability holds up pretty well. How did Void arrive at this sound in the first place? Here’s what Jarman has to say about it:
“I moved back to London and started taking drugs in the goth club Slimelight, which also had a “techno” floor . . . It wasn’t really techno, but I liked it. Do you remember Apoptygma Beserk? [Yes, unfortunately. –Richter] They played it there. I met the guys from Aborym on the dancefloor. My ego exploded into the Void. I heard Aphex Twin‘s “Come to Daddy” & Squarepusher‘s “Come on My Selector”. It was dark and electronic. It was better than most metal, more intense. But there wasn’t enough music like that. Detailed and classically beautiful but really full on.”
Indeed, there is something “classically beautiful” about the guitar work on Posthuman, in that it is generally more varied and technical than what you’ll find in many of the second wave bands that originally inspired Jarman to play black metal. Traveling forward in time to 2011, we arrive at Void’s self-titled second album, which finds Jarman fusing his sense of classical beauty with his understanding of what it was that made bands like Ved Buens Ende and Dødheimsgard so unique. And no, it was not electronics.
It was far simpler than that: merely a devil may care attitude toward what is black metal and what is cool. Somewhere along the way between 2002 and 2011, Jarman lost McNerney, kicked the electronics, and instead of laying down to die in the street, rebuilt Void into a full live band. Together they harnessed the true spirit of artistic progression, wedding Jarman’s ever more technically flamboyant stretching of black metal’s lexicon to the blunt force of hardcore and the omnidirectional excesses of grind. Sounds like serious business, huh? From the voice of the Void itself:
“By now, the experience of playing in a proper band, with a drummer . . . that’s the hit I was after, the thrill I was addicted to. So Void was reformed as a live band, playing in the style of the first demo that had Czral on drums, but influenced somewhat by the hardcore band we were playing in, the doom bands we were gigging with, and the playing style of the band’s new members. With Rob Archibald on bass (the most talented musician I have ever met, alongside Joe [Burwood], both can play all the instruments) and the awesome power of Ben Lowe (R.I.P.) on vocals. That was a very good year . . . For all of us. And for Void. If we could have carried on like that . . . ????”
From the first few moments of the first proper song on Void, “Alligator X-Ray”, showcasing a spot-on impersonation of the goth-bot crooning of Czral, you might even think you were listening to some long-lost and uncharacteristically polished recording from Ved Buens Ende. And then there are moments where you might believe you’re listening to a straight-up death metal band, or a groovy metalcore band, or a classical piano concerto. It’s a wild record whose quality is absolutely on par with the titans of weirdness that influenced it, and I am kicking myself for not knowing about it until very recently — ignorance I can only attribute to the fact that in 2011 I was no longer looking to Northern Europe for forward-thinking music (basically, I’d regressed into a rediscovery of goth).
Following the death of Ben Lowe, all of the potential optimized by Void on Void went understandably dormant — until 2017. Which brings us back to now. Or to last year. (It’s 2018, right? Sometimes I have to ask my assistant for verification.) Back to the rowdy, irreverent, mercurial brain-bang of an EP that is The Unsearchable Riches of Void. In conversation over the EP and the current sound of the band, mastermind Jarman asked me (via email): “Is it black metal?”
I saved my answer for this article, and it is an unnecessarily cocksure NO. (ÑO, even.) The Unsearchable Etc. contains atrophied artifacts of Jarman’s long, wavering history with the more daring permutations of black metal, but everything that made its predecessor not black metal has been dialed up, dolled up, (fucked up) and brought to the ball for everyone to admire as they gasp and clutch themselves with quivering lechery. Again, we’re talking heaps and heaps (and heaps) of riffs that chug and shred and twirl alongside a whole theatrical production worth of gruesome voices and drums that blastblastblastblastblast-stop-fill-flam-blastblastblastblastblast. Calling the record black metal is no different than accusing Ulver’s Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell or Fleurety’s Last Minute Lies of the same crime. This is where Void — newly risen with a revamped lineup — breaks with black metal almost completely and buries that stigma under a mile of shredding motherfucking dramagrind. How, you ask, did so much death and grind and gang-vocals and Arcturus-esque buffoonery end up in Void’s music? According to Jarman, this current stylistic melange is partially due to influence from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and more importantly the result of years of freely miscegenating with the underground London extreme music scene. Libertinage, fluid-swapping, orgies of the damned. It might be helpful to think of Jarman as a sponge, soaking up everything he hears in the world and then wringing it out through his guitar. Then again, Jarman might not want us to think of him as a sponge. I don’t know; I’ll ask him.
Richter: Is it alright for us to think of you as a sponge?
Jarman: Sister of the diploblasts! First branch on the evolutionary tree…. You mean because, stylistically, I soaked up all sorts of stuff and spat it out again into the music? Unspecialised cells do transform into other types that migrate between layers…thematically as well as stylistically. That still occurs. But that I am porous to any kind of wave-born material that tries to pass through me? No way. I am a solid, impregnable type of material. Something dogged and headstrong, like living stone, I resist most recorded music I come into contact with…stylistically. At least I do nowadays. I’m a bit more amenable at live shows. It was different at the point of maturity in my life cycle of course. My teenage years. I took on a lot of data, stylistically, then.
Jarman went on to jabber about Nena Cherry and Colour Me Bad for another paragraph, but I won’t print any of that here. Next question:
Richter: What’s holding it all together, man? What driving force is at the center of the Void?
Jarman: Playing guitar. Playing together, with good musicians. The endless pursuit to get tighter as a band. But also writing riffs, hammering notes into a sequence that pushes a riff past the abstract and obvious…(its just another riff…nobody needs another riff!) Something that says, yes, I am finished, I don’t require more development. Sometimes a riff sounds generic to us and we develop it and change it beyond recognition. Sometimes it comes out exactly as it should be and never changes. Sometimes I’m trying to play something I’ve sponged [hahahahahah –Richter] up in my head, and it comes out wrong, and you call it your own.
More Jarman: There was less careful structuring of riffs when we wrote the [Unsearchable Riches of Void] tape, because we were so well rehearsed and well maintained after doing the second album, the riffs just plopped out, one after another into the rehearsal space, lovely smooth sausage shapes that got hammered into songs. Good times…good times. What holds it together now is the knowledge that all that has been learned so far is yet to be properly expressed, and that the next album will be the one to really tear a (w)hole in music. And the one after that will be where we really get going, it won’t even use notes, or not as you know them. Ha ha, I jest. It’s a game, it’s all a fucking game. For sure we are older and fatter now and the tight waistline has slipped, but we’re working hard to get it back.
So, to recap: Original void, blackened electro, progressive black metal, sponge, putting the METAL back in avant-garde metal, ???
I could try to wrap this thing up with an elegantly binding passage, or with a dozen more obscure name-drops (Red Harvest, for instance), but…I don’t wanna. All of Void’s albums are available in various formats on bandcamp here. The band also has their own label/webshop here. (You are going to send them money in exchange for goods because you are habitually influenced by the things I say.) Demos for a new full-length album are finished. Release date: ???
Disclaimer: I decided to write this article more or less immediately after Matt Jarman contacted us and flattered me with kind words about this Fleurety article. I decided to do a much better job writing it when Jarman subsequently downloaded some dumb novella I wrote and read the whole thing. Is this the grim specter of a barter economy?
(Header image VIA)