Greek black metal duo, VOAK, wear their progressive politics on their robes. They’re anti-fascist, pro-feminist and LGBTQ-positive. The good news is you cannot hear these ideological convictions in the experimental noise they unleash on their debut album. Why anyone would enjoy the dogma of left-wing soundbites and slogans on repeat is beyond comprehension unless you’re white, middle class, bi-sexual, from a fee-paying school and concerned for the next minority group in your country that face a non-existent future oppression. Inspired by German poet, Rainer-Maria Rilke, VOAK explore the concept of verdrängung (repression/displacement) on their debut record – in this case, through the suppression of one’s own privileges to join the wider fight of the deserving righteous.
Fortunately, VOAK spend as much time listening to post-punk and black metal as they do reading the works of Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein. This means they have an expert ear for the darker forms of audio. Listen how the brooding piano in the opening title-track prods your goosebumps with reverberating bass keys and backwards tape effects. Can you hear the storm of violence approaching in the distance? ‘Für jede Wunde ein Pfeil’ wastes no time following this with a colourful blast of rapid drums and sharp tremolo patterns. Gory vocals and jagged rhythms are par for the course in black metal these days, yet this glows with the duotone textures of green and brown and is livelier than most of the dross that comes out of the genre these days. The surprise inclusion of a Gregorian monk harmony to balance the aggravated windpipe distress of the harsher vocals shows that VOAK are serious musicians as well as political agitators.
We’ve already had one classic, anti-fascist, black metal record this year with Ashenspire’s avant-garde stunner, Hostile Architecture, and VOAK’s effort might not match it, but it comes close. Nothing about this LP is predictable. Listen how the heroic rock drums of ‘Öffnungen’ thud like a vintage Ministry beat and circle the rhythm with subtle mid-register guitar patterns. The melodies buried beneath the violence are just as impressive. You can hear the visceral rage of the early Darkthrone output, but VOAK have a personality of their own in the way they swerve between interconnected sub-genres like university professors presenting a summary paper on different theoretical interpretations of a major social problem. Where did those deep bass tones of a male opera voice appear from while you’re contemplating the air guitar?
Not content with widening the black metal colour palette with purple lens flares, the duo also remind us what Mayhem sounded like in their school hall rehearsal room back in 1986 when they had The Dead Kennedys and Hellhammer as their starting points. The flay of the mid-range chords in ‘Sprechende Köpfe’ resets to a post-punk take on metal with bass-heavy rhythms and sultry vocals, like modern-day Christian Death. ‘Die Verwandlung’ would not be out of place at a German goth club for those tired of the Neue Deutsche Härte nonsense that passes for cyberpunk music these days.
If verdrängung is a difficult internalising process of self-improvement through self-sacrifice, it’s also a concept that calls for rumination. Perhaps this is the ultimate triumph of this album. The Greek duo create art that aches with unsentimental regret. ‘Affektintoleranz’ is the closest any black metal band will come to the sophisticated minimalism of The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds era. Even the lo-fi blast beats at the half-way mark have their place in this song. It comes as no surprise when they end the record on ‘Sabbat’ with a stunning arrangement of pining female harmonies that project with the grief of a bereaved widow. Can you think of a more imaginative way to introduce a violent eruption of black metal?
VOAK might sounds like humourless Marxists in their press release, but their music captivates and takes delight in all things strange and unorthodox without compromising the vitriolic aggression of black metal’s golden era. Verdrängung deserves your attention.
Release Date: 30/09/2022
Record Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Standout tracks: Für jede Wunde ein Pfeil; Affektintoleranz; Sabbat
Suggested Further Listening: Cirkeln – A Song to Sorrow (2022), Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture (2022), Knekelput – Teloorgang (2022)