Czech quintet, Voluptas, released an EP in 2016, but you could be forgiven for knowing nothing about them… until now. This may be one of the most unusual and discordant black metal releases since Ved Buens Ende’s classic 1995 album, Written in Waters. If you don’t know what that means, get ready for some experimental black metal with off-meter time changes and distorted jazz chords meshed in a fireball of deafening noise. Of course, you’ll be reading on from this point – why wouldn’t you?
You know within twenty seconds of ‘Crystalline Key’ that you’re in for a unique experience as soon as the temple-throbbing screams and blast beats kick in and reset to a bizarre carnival-esque rhythm of bass and tom drums drowned in sludge metal noise. This is what John Zorn’s Naked City would sound like if they played black metal. Fans of the latest album by experimental grindcore legends, Fuck the Facts, will also be scrambling to add this to their Deezer playlist. With so much going on, it’s easy to allow the composition to get the better of you. But worry not: vertigo is only a distant threat and the spasmic time changes associated with mathcore are sporadic. You’ll rush to press the repeat button when it finishes.
To the untrained ear it appears the guitarists are playing standard black metal tremolo riffs – they’re not. The chords are jazzy and distorted, and the type of progressions Toby Driver explored during his time in avant-garde metal outfit, Maudlin of the Well. Such an audio assault is dizzying yet hypnotic, like a hallucinogenic contemplation of a water-filled quarry decommissioned years ago. Your body is telling you not to jump in, but your mind is incongruent and overriding your instinct. Don’t do it! ‘Thargelia’ is the best example of this illuminous aggression. On ‘Of Gnosis and Agony’ it’s hard to recall the band playing an orthodox chord for the entirety of the song, yet the punk rock and post-metal components somehow come together in a coherent piece. The black metal rasps are like the wild screams of a dying creature betrayed by his peer group and left to forage alone.
The band cite Belgian blackened sludge experimentalists, Alkerdeel, as their favourite contemporary artist. Their shared love for Ved Buens Ende is obvious, but Voluptas bow down to none of their idols. Just when you thought it might settle down, they surprise us with an opening riff on ‘Between Terror and Erebus’ that could be from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Then they’re off on another dissonant black metal journey of blast beats and Voivod chords. It sets us up for the 13-minute finale of ‘Desert Twilight’, a song that explores post-rock chord formations and eerie saxophone notes before exploding into an evil blackened sludge assault with Burzum tones. They could finish this composition at the 8-minute mark but decide to drone on with another five minutes of improvised sax and ear-deafening guitar feedback. It’s apocalyptic but a little self-indulgent.
Like Norwegian avant-garde black metallers, In the Woods…, the artistic merit of this music is not in doubt. Voluptas like to challenge the listener with their unpredictable and limitless experimentation, which can sometimes feel whimsical yet invigorating at the same time. Underneath it all, they’re a black metal band and they do not come in peace. Towards the Great White Nothing is a pleasure to dissect even if it doesn’t quite connect on first listen.
Release Date: 11/09/2020
Record Label: Metalgate Records
Standout tracks: Crystalline Key, Between Terror and Erebus, Desert Twilight
Suggested Further Listening: Ved Buens Ende – Written in Waters (1995), Fuck the Facts – Pleine Noirceur (2020), Maudlin of the Well – Bath (2001)