The kings of English avant-garde metal are back with their first record in three years. With former members of Akercocke in their ranks and one of the finest metal albums of the last decade to their name (see 2016’s London LP), Voices are now on Church Road Records and ready to exceed expectations again. By the sounds of it, they spent lockdown exploring their post-punk vinyl collection and plotting how to redefine the left-field boundaries of extreme metal. Those who feared they might abandon the malevolent strain of blackened death metal running through their music have nothing to fear. Breaking the Trauma Bond is as challenging as anything issued in their name to date and just as mesmerising.
It’s rare you get an album over one hour in length that’s so engaging from the first to the last note, but Voices are a cinematic band and master conveyors of emotional anguish. Opener, ‘A Field without Crows’, starts with a subtle gaze of violins and guitar pedal loops and sets the scene with a faint patch of light piercing through the darkness. The prevailing mood is paranoia laced with sorrow and sporadic moments of psychosis. It soon becomes clear that vocalist and pianist, Peter Benjamin, is the key to expanding the horizons of the band’s artistic vision on the title track that follows. Here they build from a jungle snare beat and work in a filthy death metal riff while the frontman explores a range of styles from hysterical black metal to a regional London croon. ‘An Audience of Mannequins’ will make you check if you’re listening to the same artist. You’d think this were the latest Exodus album judging by the quality and precision of the thrash riffing. How do they create such a sense of sorrow and grief among the aggression and malevolence? The spectacular tech death rhythms of the middle eight will stun you in the way they segue into a flurry of blast beats and melodic vocal lamentations. Does anyone sound like this in the metal universe?
The best way to understand the music is to imagine Killing Joke playing extreme metal. Benjamin’s aggressive voice sounds like Jaz Coleman but with the strain of a West Londoner subdued in a headlock and struggling to breathe. ‘Lilacs in Between’ and ‘Beckoning Shadows’ sparkle with the maudlin beauty of The Psychedelic Furs to the point where the blast beats blend into the background like ordinary dynamics. The way the guitars build from the most obscure and dissonant of guitar shapes speaks wonders to the invention on display here. Close your eyes during the blackened post-punk stomp of ‘Petrograph’, and this could be Killing Joke’s Brighter than a Thousand Suns updated for the twenty-first century. Those buzzing guitar arpeggios and palm-muted riffs sound like a coming together of the Bay Area thrash scene and the goths from London’s famous Batcave nightclub.
You’ll be hard pressed to pick favourites from an album of such stunning ambition and expert execution. Could it be the pan-flute keyboards and noise rock guitars that adorn the effulgent chorus of ‘Methods of Madness’? Or maybe the latent channel of gothic orchestration buried in the distortion and jagged swing of ‘Whispers’? How can they write music as hostile and violent yet retain a hand-on-heart sorrow at the same time?
Previous Voices albums found thematic inspiration from art house films, but Breaking the Trauma Bond reads like a cogent collection of short stories centred on the anxiety of living in the cold anonymity of the capital city. A dark undercurrent of violence follows Benjamin’s voice through the dark alleyways and seedy backstreets of London. ‘My Sick Mind’ feels like a man wandering around the metropolis without his medication. The self-destructive obsession of ‘She Speaks to Him in a Dream’ injects the chorus with the haunting line of “Silver is the colour of her glistening skin.” At times you wonder if the protagonist in ‘Methods of Madness’ is a serial killer on the prowl in Soho. The way they switch from piano-led blast beats and crooning vocals to a psychopathic roar of murderous death metal at the end of ‘Kaleidoscope of Thorns’ suggests the main challenge is keeping a lid on the violent fantasies and delusions that threaten the sanity of the album’s main characters.
We’ve been waiting for a band to discover the formula that can bring light to extreme metal and genuine neurotic despair to the aggression of the music. Breaking the Trauma Bond is the record that can do both these things. This is a classic in the making.
Release Date: 26/11/2021
Record Label: Church Road Records
Standout tracks: An Audience of Mannequins, Petrograph, Whispers
Suggested Further Listening: Epiphanic Truth – Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms to a Sordid Species (2021), Killing Joke – Night Time (1984), Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (2020)