Review Summary: A new dark corner of the woods.
Nevoa – The Absence of Void
Atmospheric black metal albums are a dime a dozen these days. Do even a little bit of digging and you will trip over them. So its easy for a band to get lost in the crowd, and difficult for it to stand out in a sincere and arresting manner. I fear Nevoa may fall into the former category, but not because they belong there. The Absence of Void is a very patient album. The wall-of-sound technique so common within the genre is certainly present here, but it's not the focus. It is the stretches between the more traditional sounding sections that encapsulate a simple and unique essence. You've heard this tale before, but it's never been told quite like this.
“A Thousand Circles” feels like fairly straightforward black metal at first (done very well), but the core of the track reveals a calmer side to the band that doesn't come off as purposefully soft and squishy like other wedged-in contrasting moods. Many bands alternate between mellow and mean because it seems like an effective and appropriate thing to do. The problem is that it's become expected and often ends up feeling uninspired at best, downright lazy and instantly dismissible at worst. Nevoa never let go of the dark and mysterious atmosphere they establish with the opening riffs, even when all that's left to listen for is a solitary set of acoustic strums. The bass plucks are powerful, the drum fills exciting. It's a really well put together and engaging song, but the band haven't laid all their cards out on the table yet. Not even close.
The opening of “Wind and Branches” sounds almost as if the main riff from the first song is being played backwards at a slightly higher pitch. It's unsettling both it its eerie similarity and in the tone of the guitars themselves, but before you have a chance to think too hard about it the song breaks away into what I can only (poorly) describe as jazz infused progressive something-or-other. While it doesn't completely exile itself from black metal territory, especially when the hard riffs come back in, it does serve to show that Nevoa really are all about you; about culturing your experience through their imagination. By the time the riff-less “Alma” rolls an ambient stream in and haunting high-pitched vocals grace your ears, you realize it's too late. The Absence of Void has dug its atmospheric claws deep into you and there's no turning back.
The last two songs share the same type of parity as the first two, further solidifying the album's engrossing aural aesthetics. But make no mistake; the songwriting here is very different from the first half of the album. “Below a Celestial Abyss” stretches a cold and foreboding aura over your ears and marries gritty, grinding riffs with a metronome-like bass drum. Blasts and fills seethe and splash all around. The slower, doom-like midsection brings to light yet another facet of Nevoa's sonic pallet and, after several listens, turns out to be the strongest part of their work.
The title track ties everything together for a truly epic finale. Intense blackened passages with blasts and tremolos a-plenty are stamped out in just the right places and for the perfect lengths of time. Lucent slothy riffs build into plodding, pounding assaults that roll into a grim harmonious groove. Indeed it is these varied mid-tempo pockets of self-contained energy and enthusiasm that are the most satisfying element of the band's sound. The layers compile in a sensible yet unorthodox fashion, then dramatically blossom into huge enveloping waves of sound. It's not because there's a noise every which way you listen. There is a fluid, undulating movement to the notes. The tone of the instruments is spacious without feeling light. The production is permeable; clear yet organic, allowing you to grasp each note without sounding mechanical or sterile, the sounds passing through effortlessly without overwhelming you. The final pattern of riffs and cymbal smashes crashes down on you like an avalanche only to end suddenly, as though the wall of snow and ice struck you and instantly you were gone.
Imagine for a moment that you watch a video of a crowd where everyone is in motion; walking, talking, gesturing, changing expressions, all kinds of activity. All but one. A single soul standing nearly still, starting straight at you. They may shift their stance, or adjust the tilt of their head, but all of their attention is focused on you. Nevoa don't demand that you listen. They simply wait for you to do so, and then you realize that this whole time it's all been about you, the listener, and what you can come away with from the story they have unfolded before you.