Voices - London
Candlelight Records
Progressive Black/Death
14 songs (1:00:35)
Release year: 2014
Official Bandcamp, Candlelight Records
Reviewed by Goat

A little over a year after their impressive début, Voices are back, and shooting for the stars with a concept album. Still to be endlessly compared and contrasted to everyone's favourite be-suited Englishmen Akercocke thanks to the presence of David 'Blast Vader' Gray and Pete Benjamin, Voices deserve to succeed on their own terms, and London is a serious argument in their favour. Keeping some of the Akercockean trademarks such as emotive clean and harsh vocals, sexual lyrical focus, and a progressive approach to riffs that melds the best of black and death metal, Voices have discarded the humour and Satanism to form something quite dark. Dark, and seriously impressive. Dissonant, twisted riffs, anguished screams and yells; that London is a concept album actually works in the band's favour, unlike many who attempt such undertakings so early in a group's life. For one, the members are experienced songwriters, especially Gray (who has been drumming for at least twenty years now). For another, the more atmospheric moments fit in better (and feel less like filler or the oddly-fitting experiments of late Akercocke) automatically covering for weaker moments – Voices are, after all, at their best when at full, furious tempo.

Luckily for us, London features plenty of this. Fortunately, as opener Suicide Note immediately proves, the interlude tracks are of high standard, atmospheric and dark. And when the metal arrives, it arrives at full power – Music for the Recently Bereaved immediately blows much of the début album away, opening with blasts and devolving into a technical morass of death metal riffs and progressive melodies that's something like an uneasy meld of Decapitated and My Dying Bride, complete with piano. The uneasiness of the 'throw everything at the wall' experimentation works, especially as the album continues and the sexual and musical themes become more plain. Concept albums never make their stories plain, but London's urban alienation and erotic obsession can be related with by most modern city-dwellers, English or not. And although it may seem that Voices have made a mistake in abandoning Akercocke's Hammer Horror-esque image of the English as badass gentlemen Satanists (because that's how the rest of the world sees us, right?) for something darker and even more sordid, Voices sell it well.

One error, if any exist at all, is weighing longer tracks down with narration when interlude tracks exist – why end Music for the Recently Bereaved with narration when the minute-long The Actress could bear it just as well, if it's necessary to include it at all? Eccentric indulgences such as narration on a metal album are always going to raise eyebrows, however well-performed (here, it's fine, but does remind me somewhat of The Axis of Perdition's sub-par Urfe) and although albums are rightly made to be listened to as a whole, you can't stop people skipping tracks for their favourite moments. Yet said interludes have perfectly respectable metal performances, of course, and as stage-setters in their own right do perfectly well for the likes of Vicarious Lover, which is where the album truly takes off. After all, catchiness melded with twisted riffing is exactly what we discerning extreme metalheads enjoy, and the band definitely have their ears to the ground. Moving from Gojira-gone-Anaal Nathrakh filth to downright black metal blasting, throwing in acoustic riffing over blastbeats (always terrific) and clean vocals that suggest that Pete Benjamin has been possessed by Jason Mendonça, never mind replacing him, this is the ultimate proof that Akercocke's spirit will go on.

Megan soon confirms this (memories of Nadja and Zuleika in the back of your mind...) as each instrument wanders off to perform its own function yet forms part of an injured, tormented whole that keeps you spellbound. (Whoever produced this album deserves a medal; the clarity and separation of instruments but wholeness of sound is wonderful.) And from then on, the album is truly hard to criticise; Imaginary Sketches of a Poisoned Man ups the viciousness, The Antidote ups the tormented atmosphere... Each track seems to take a different aspect of the band's sound and run with it, The Fucktrance, for example, pushing dissonance to an intense breaking point before continuing even further with an added piano layer for added strangeness. House of Black Light runs with this, adding technical breakdowns and widdly soloing to the mix, and while Last Train Victoria Line might mean more to London-dwellers than the rest of us, that sense of late-night angst is universal. London, ultimately, is best summed up as a darker, dirtier version of Shame – sexual dysfunction and torment galore, albeit with Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, and New York replaced with riffs, blastbeats, and, well, London! I expect Voices to produce a run of terrific albums in coming years, and although London isn't quite perfect, it's sure to be the first gem in a discography full of them.

Killing Songs :
Music for the Recently Bereaved, Vicarious Lover, Megan, The Antidote, The Fucktrance
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Voices that we have reviewed:
Voices - An Audience of Mannequins (EP) reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Voices - Frightened reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 100
Voices - From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain reviewed by Goat and quoted 78 / 100
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