There awaits a colossal paralysis that potentiates beyond heraldry and achievement, an electric storm of realigned ambitions and scurrilous insistence that all momentum be capitalized to feed the hungriest among us, those who would not digest. When looking back upon 2017, the year that Detroit, Michigan death/doom quintet Temple of Void would release their mountainous second full-length, ‘Lords of Death‘, many (including myself) would treat its geode as a fleck of sand and slap the same three bands next to its name filing their sophomore opus away until next time. The distance afforded by a relatively short period of time allows ‘Lords of Death’ to reign stronger with each passing moment, a breakthrough album from a remarkably well-tuned death/doom metal point of view. There is the sense that its follow-up, ‘The World That Was’, has some great potential to be another meal for the legions of groupers among us swallowed whole and out the chute by the end of the year and not because it is any less vital but because Temple of Void have pushed themselves in meaningful ways towards a new but admittedly subtle horizon to gaze upon. This third full-length from the band is not a graying ‘old school’ work of dust and bone but a massive walk across a yet unexplored expanse, capitalizing upon the psychedelic swamp of songs like “Graven Desires” on the prior record into the promised lair of purple and orange monstrosity beyond.
It is with no great ego or hipster intent that I’ll suggest that I was right there following Temple of Void from the moment they’d gone public with ‘Demo MMXIII‘ back in early 2013. There I was searching for a copy of Temple Nightside‘s debut when I’d hit them on a nearby part of a catalog and a good friend suggested Temple of Void were related to Acid Witch (vocalist Mike Erdody is their guitarist) and sounded like Hooded Menace “used to” keeping in mind this was not long after ‘Effigies of Evil’. It was a fine demo and I’d responded to it by purchasing ‘Of Terror and the Supernatural‘ a year later, a decision that’d honestly been driven by the Bruce Pennington artwork on the cover and the promise that it’d sound “heavy as ‘Stoned‘ but serious.” Without good friends and music-loving folk around the world I’d miss out on albums like Temple of Void‘s debut but there was no way I could’ve missed their Shadow Kingdom Records debut for the hype it’d generated while drawing constant comparisons to Bolt Thrower among obviate and already mentioned comparisons. Despite this, it was an incomparably huge album that was far louder and gutturally pissed than it needed to be; A relentless event. I wouldn’t say this set expectations for ‘The World That Was’ too high but this time around so many more pairs of eyes and ears are eagerly watching and listening.
Count me in with ’em, I’m a big fan and no doubt since its announcement the messaging for ‘The World That Was’ has centered around a shift in focus, a new set of experimental guidelines applied to their modern and polished blend of slow-to-mid paced death metal and sluggish death/doom metal. Let’s roll that one back a second, as the implication that this is more doom than death (as the first album + demo were) is accurate in terms of pacing and movement away from the barreling Bolt Thrower style of high fantasy death metal toward the measured, stoney crunch of their brothers from a Suomi mother Solothus or Druid Lord‘s most recent LP. Where the major difference comes in terms of contemporaries is in a shift toward subtler melancholic leads, increasingly ‘outside the box’ phrasing, and deeper punishing realms that provide atmosphere on par with todays funeral death/doom metal hybrids but, at thrice the pace. In other words, what is different therein comes at a different pace as the fringes of their sound twist to reshape their atmospheric intent. No doubt the core of Temple of Void is sustained, though, if anything the band appear even more deliberate in action.
Psychedelia, shoegaze, grunge, space rock, and myriad other influences are suggested beyond the usual classic death metal core but the composers are clear that none of this should manifest in any literal sense, and the only point where it appears in truth is “Leave the Light Behind” which makes good on the light suggestion of bands like Ride or Failure in textural and melodic influence. The song itself shouldn’t be a wild surprise as the aforementioned highlight “Graven Desires” was similar in form and placement. With that said, the vocal work is probably more “shoegaze” in spirit than I’ve ever heard a real death metal band push, and this ends up being a remarkable moment to return to in the context of the full listen. The spaced-out synth tracers that highlight the song take this experimental moment and rocket it into a nearly avant-garde realm which I’d appreciate for its unexpectedly alien presence. It is a completely vexing way to end Side A and it’d take some time to find myself accepting the first four tracks on the album as a whole experience. It sounds as if Temple of Void are yearning to push into deeper melodic layers but leaving behind too much of their death metal voice would be far too alien and appear disingenuous just yet. With all of that said, “Leave the Light Behind” does leave a mark as one of the more original sounding moments on the full listen.
As a reasonable point of comparison, Side B is the classic voice of Temple of Void in their already solid pocket of death/doom sublimity as “Casket of Shame” swaggers in with an epic heavy metal gait for its bigger verses. The eye of the storm they pull into around the 4:45 minute mark of this song is one of the more brilliant moments on the record as well as a reminder that these fellowes are always thinking of their next move, that these songs were written with care and with a moment-to-moment dynamic in mind. Nowhere is this more evident than in the nearly 10 minute exodus of the title track, a grand finale marked by watery keyboards and weighty riffs in its midsection before a wildly psychoactive event finishes the record off. Speaking of riffs, I don’t think this will be an album for the riff-obsessed who value numbers over strategic placement and it is not a Ceremonium-esque balance of the brutal with ever-looming dread. Although I’d enjoy the full listen more with each casual listen, the closer attention I’d paid to the guitar work the less I found redeeming about the specifics of the ‘riff’ as an impressively heavy spectacle versus its station as a functional movement in the moment. In this sense the pocket here versus the pocket of ‘Lords of Death’ find the band wearing entirely different pants.
‘The World That Was’ is yet another strong evolutionary step for Temple of Void as they gain strength and put their experience to admirable use. I don’t at all think this is the catchiest, heaviest, or most compellingly arranged tracklist in death/doom this year but thus far it is unquestionably one of the most boldly idiosyncratic movements from a known force in the early months of 2020. Not only do I champion its ‘weird’ textural ideas and experimental nature but the fact that these elements actually take me to a different place than any other band, the expression is not perfect but the experience is worthwhile and unique enough to be memorable and satisfying. A high recommendation for this record.
High recommendation. 3.75/5.0
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