Review Summary: What it sounds like when black metal actually is “transcendental”.
With hordes of groups trying to pretty-up a genre whose entire essence lies in raw emotion and dingy production, Santa Cruz-based band Fell Voices pose the question, “Wasn’t atmospheric black metal beautiful all along"” Their second full-length album joins the band’s already outstanding discography as a rather emphatic nod to answer their own question. While taking a few cues from several other genres, Fell Voices manage to deftly avoid the pitfalls ensnaring so many contemporary outfits that attempt a hybrid of the genre by doing one fairly simple thing - getting the black metal part right.
The first untitled track convincingly lulls the listener with a brief ambient soundscape before erupting into melodic yet aggressive tremolo riffing. The importance of great guitar riffs as the cornerstone of any successful black metal formula seems to be lost on most projects of this era, but Fell Voices put forth guitar work as invigoratingly dark and heavy as hypnotizing. Impeccable drumming and rich bass round out the impressive instrumentation that gracefully pivots from metallic fury to low, dissonant ambience, with the occasional powerful shrieks accentuating their musical counterparts. Perfectly poised transitions and dynamics keep the experience exciting the entire way through, passages of eerie sustained notes and whispered vocals bursting back into blasts with a brief moment’s notice. As with the very best of drone records, a multitude of guitar techniques are wielded masterfully to create a wide range of sounds and moods that are carefully woven into the tightly stitched black metal fabric. Hints of post-rock even line the sonic quilt, with the overall sound favoring the apocalyptic ominousness of Godspeed You! Black Emperor rather than the more docile stylings of Explosions in the Sky. The music is allowed to fully entrance thanks largely to its effectively raw production that perfectly suits each movement and conjures an otherworldly atmosphere on an album that would sound as at home played in a dank, musty basement as it would in the most enchanting boreal groves.
The formality of titles may be forgone, but these two tracks more than speak for themselves. With this, their most impressive work yet, Fell Voices already have a more consistent discography under their belt with just two full-lengths, a demo, and a split than virtually every other American black metal outfit to have existed. If this little group from Santa Cruz, California is the future of the genre, then its coming days appear extremely bright - and its music blissfully dark.