Voidhanger Double Feature: ZOS and -S-
Poland goes weird. I, Voidhanger’s spidey sense tingles. I investigate.
It’s been mentioned once or twice on this blog that I, Voidhanger is a quality label that often delivers outside-the-box music. After founder and runner Luciano went through some major health issues, the label now makes its triumphant return with no less than five simultaneous releases this April. Upon receiving this cornucopia of promos, my sensory organs of choice fell on two albums from Polish bands that quickly made it clear they weren’t gonna be an easy listen. It was therefore also clear that none of my cowardly (read: smarter than me) colleagues would review them. Let’s see what’s going on here.
ZOS – The Whole of the Body I Call ZOS
The name and concept of ZOS are inspired by the works of Austin Osman Spare, whose occult teachings about the significant role that the subconscious plays in shaping human minds greatly informed the way the album was recorded. Described as “the fruit of an intense process of unlearning” and reportedly recorded through “intoxicating improvisations,” it sounds like the music came about in much the same way that krautrock legends such as Can would record their material, getting together for prolonged jam sessions during which, at some point, automatism takes over and the conscious mind does indeed take a back seat.
In short, some guys got zonked out of their minds and laid down some far-out tunes. The idea is far from new, but ZOS do their darndest to add some spice. Most notably, it seems that we get to witness the “process of unlearning;” after an unassuming ambient intro, the opening track kicks things into gear with the musical equivalent of vomiting out every simultaneous thought going through a human brain. Every instrument goes haywire, and I’m pretty sure I can hear toppling bricks, shattering glass, and, at one point, a cat. It’s unbearably chaotic and thankfully does not last long, but even though the track soon settles down considerably, it retains enough of an unsettling, nervous energy that every time I put the album on, it makes me question if it was a good idea to do so.
From here on out, however, that intensity dissolves more and more as the album begins to run in a more krautrock-ish groove. The steady repetition of the drums vaguely recalls the principle of motorik, albeit without the machine-like quality, instead feeling loser and, well, more improvised. This is accompanied by pleasantly twangy, reverb-heavy guitar that can give everything a bit of a desert vibe. Still, the album is hardly one to just put on and bliss out to, as ZOS continually take the psychedelic vibes to the darkest possible places, hardly ever letting the unsettling energy from the beginning vanish completely. Indiscernible, warped vocals continue to echo through “Volition” and the closing track, sounding like the remnants of a shattered mind struggling not to dissipate in a void. Even in track four, which sees the band at their most “laid back,” an eerie feeling is created by a long, creepy vocal sample (the inclusion of which must have required conscious effort – checkmate, occultists!) and the guitar’s monstrous, twisted caricature of “Maggot Brain”-esque soloing.
While the concept of the record may not be groundbreaking, I found the dark and unsettling manner in which it’s presented rather impressive, and after the rite of passage that is the first track, every spin of the album was an engaging trip.
3.5 out ov 5
-S- – Dom, w którym mieszkał Wąż
With this one, we move even further away from metal and outside of my comfort zone. The post-post-black metal (or something) of -S- is a lot more subdued than anything I’m used to, with the main band only consisting of drums and bass guitar. Accompanied by two bass clarinets, they concoct mostly slow songs that can feel oddly shapeless and motionless and all seemed pretty similar at first glance – but admittedly, listening to a record as the backdrop for a video game is hardly an ideal setting in any case.
Giving it a bit more focus soon revealed that while all four tracks operate in pretty similar modes, they are not as uneventful as I had thought at first. Things again start off with an ambient intro followed by forlorn clarinets dooting through a void before the singer’s retching and screaming kick off the song proper. Much like with ZOS, it’s akin to witnessing the birth of something, but rather than exploding into a cacophony, the music is laboriously pulled out from wherever it was hiding, plops into the mud, and writhes there like some malicious black mass. The distorted bass guitar snarls like a wild animal trying to keep you away, which, together with the throaty, shouted proclamations of the vocalist constitutes the music’s nasty side.
This is complemented by – or rather juxtaposed with – the warm tones of the clarinets, which thankfully focus on providing measured, calm tones rather than throwing full-on free jazz craziness into the mix (although that does happen briefly at one or two points). Far from lightening the atmosphere, they instead add to the mire of darkness that we find ourselves in, but the vibe they bring to the table is one I can’t help but describe as cool. The ominous, drawn-out notes add a sense of mystery that makes the whole thing feel like the grittiest noir movie ever. Cigarette smoke curls in blue neon light as the gritty, whisky-swiveling detective monologues his ruminations about the nocturnal city, all while the aforementioned other side of the musical equation works to counter any such romantic notions by constructing an image of harsh reality. This city’s seedy underbelly has long become an overbelly, its misery and dirt refusing to be swept under the rug.
Indeed, there must be some sort of narrative here, as the album sets out to be “a frivolous reinterpretation of the Faustian myth.” I was as of yet unable to find any lyrics, but would be interested in how exactly this story is told, because while closer inspection did reveal many subtleties and slight twists, the overarching mood and tempo of the music are so consistent that I can’t really point out any moments that might mark plot beats, much less a climax. While it’s not odd for a story to end where it started, I’m hard put to identify any transformation that may have occurred along the way.
Despite this mystery and, more impressively, despite my usually pitiful attention span, I was able to pull a surprising amount of enjoyment from this record.
3.5 out ov 5
Concluding that these two albums are not for everyone would be a bit lame, because that’s just how music works. They’re completely different but equally engaging records, and I always seem to be in favour of whichever one I’m currently listening to, so rating them was a bit hard. Really, I’m still kinda surprised I like them at all; despite my initial assumption that they would be hard to sit through, the many times I listened to them for this review never felt like homework. I hope I’ve helped to prevent these from getting lost in the wake of the more accessible and equally excellent releases from Feral Light and Thos Ælla. If, on the other hand, you want more weirdness, you should probably try Inhumankind.
I, Voidhanger will release all of these records on April 22nd.