VOID – The Hollow Man (2021)REVIEW

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. Oh, come in, equivocator.” — Readied at the gates of Hell aback a scarp of purgatorial nonplussed abysm, few men are passionate enough to choose eternal fire over nothingness. Mundanity in view of either hand’s given extremes blurs the mind of its secured placement, less a fear of missing out and more a fear of never having mattered to Gods or contributed willfully to the follies of fellow men. A great work, however you’d divine it, should carry the power to send the mind reeling at whatever ominous speed its cracks would form within a shell-like personal reality. As we are freed of this collectively veiling imagery by way of transformative art the meat of the brain, typically stuffed with a tenth of what’d been learned (and able to communicate a fraction less in commune), meaningfully stacks a most engaging lineage of plasticizing events in logical succession. We arrive upon our own personally angled apocalyptic dream-state via what provided imagery sustains this notion and, I suppose in the case of T.S. Eliot‘s circa 1925 poem The Hollow Men what initially nukes the senses is this implication that a toppling spirit, upon hitting its greatest point of “mundane” weakness, lands in lucid view of the end of hopeful, motivational idealism. The poet invokes Dante‘s molten rivers, various kingdoms of death, Guido Fawkes, Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness, Shakespeare‘s Julius Caesar and all of it seemingly speaking to the arrogance of man from a seat of power… at least without the compounding context of his own disillusionment with Unitarianism, an equally dissatisfying marriage, and some discomfort with the end of World War I. The weight of this piece still resonates nearly a hundred years later not because of the intellectual lucidity it gathers in frenzied self-preservation, maligning the inherent miscommunication of man, but for the ruthlessly honest melodrama it presents in confronting the dilemma of hope and change in view of ever nihilistic human history. We are all prone to slip into view of Hell and perhaps, in most every case, it’d be useful to be singed by its threatening flames of realism unto action or, transformation. The third full-length from London-based avant-garde black metal quintet Void pulls from the greater fever-dreaming doom of Eliot‘s poem as structural inspiration for their own considerable transformation, a foil for their own latest opus of theatric black metal art, ‘The Hollow Man‘. His dissolution is our own, inevitable with any nurtured sentience and avoidable via steadfast hard-channeled ignorance.

What a time to consider the fall of the sanity of the “ordinary” man or, the unexceptional among us who do little to compete with the greater nonsense of society, than an era abreast of seamless global political and environmental torment. Void set their initial scene with the foreshadowing sound of a wartime Huey, a hint of Apocalypse Now on the breath of this spoken word intro to presage the unbelted rollercoaster ahead and perhaps provide deeper cinematic triangulation between their own theme and the lineage of influence from Conrad to Eliot to Coppola and eventually this ~40 minute concept album which I’m prone to describe as blackened avant-prog metal rather than plainly progressive black metal, if only for the sake of not invoking 70’s rock reproach. If the narrative journey of this unexceptional protagonist cast as such in modern day London already begins to sound like a bit much on paper compared to past records from this project you’d be correct in the assumption that ‘The Hollow Man’ is in keeping with their long history of exponentially freshening ambition which has thus far occurred within the long gaps between each of their major releases. The earliest recordings from the band arose from the collaboration of Matt Jarman and Mat McNerny (Hexvessel, Dødheimsgard) in the late 90’s and after a series of self-released EPs and a demo featuring Carl-Michael Eide (Aura Noir, Virus) on drums the duo would self-produce and engineer their first album (‘Posthuman‘, 2003) to some considerable acclaim thanks to their forward-thinking embrace of electronic music elements when faced with the reality of programming drums rather than find a new drummer. It was definitely the right time for it as industrial black metal acts like Aborym were reaching a pronounced peak of exploration nearby. McNerny would move on to his other black metal project Code in the meantime and that meant Void would take roughly eight years to produce a second full-length (‘Void‘, 2011) with a new line-up and record label. This was certainly eight years worth of insight applied to a stunning result, a prog infused technical black metal album that was thrashing one moment and highly experimental the next with a very sharp production for its time. At this vantage point of hindsight it could be said that earlier Void albums were a matter of what nuance one could pluck from the window shattering storm of their exuberance and extremity, there is a constant intensity that reeks from each of the first two album which I’d describe as sinister and urgent. For all of the folks who’d written something to the effect of “I hope they don’t take another eight years to make another record” well, it has been ten years if we don’t count their 2017 EP ‘The Unsearchable Riches of Void‘ and it certainly feels like they’d been mulling over the way forward for quite some time, opting for the most freakish path forward.

As previously suggested, ‘The Hollow Man’ presents the story of a fellow of no great importance to the world who’d read Eliot‘s poem and whirls his way through a series of trips that follow the imagery suggested by the five part piece. It isn’t a literal reading of the poem but an application of its themes of grief, loss of hope, and uncertainty set beneath a modern skin whilst still bringing in several direct references to the poem. They’ve recreated a scene or two to keep the theme sensical, such as the children singing at the start of “VIII The End – This is The Way The World Ends”, but the whole of the album represents flesh upon this idea. The presentation appears purposefully cinematic, varietal and surrealistic while taking care to represent the art metal moments of past albums via a few hits of electronic beats and plenty of spoken word narration in keeping with Void‘s avant-black metal progressivity. Of course this means finding a point of focus is altogether difficult as the narrative calls for a broad range of overstimulating scenery as we move from from the neoclassical grinding unfurl of opener “I On Reading – The Hollow Men” to the psychotic red alert break-beat’n rants of “II A Mental Break – Pink Beam of Light”. These major events aren’t simply pinned together but purposefully crafted to bleed into one greater piece that should not be interrupted. Even if this sounds vaguely warm in terms of ‘Void’ circa 2011 keep in mind the glue of the experience is an orchestral medium that arrives before, after, and sometimes during the major apices of the running order. This will appear massively sophisticated compared to past releases, which were sub-cultural and gritty compared to this very modern and artful edged record. In terms of riffs and the Dødheimsgard and Ved Buens Ende-esque metal junk you’ll be rummaging around for “IV Imminent Demise – The Black Iron Prison” presents a high point of chaos at the core of the full listen that’ll remind longtime fans of the previous record via a couple of hardcorish barks and angular guitar-clanking n’ crawling moments as major directors. Despite being activated by these guitar heavy moments early on they become supporting actors for the narrative elements, layers of ambiance and sampled pieces that help to visualize the sojourn of the tormented protagonist as he wheels towards ruin. ‘The Hollow Man’ is yet an effective guitar album fit for consumption by extreme metal folks but the anxietous surrealism generated otherwise is equally important.

The full listen would be a jarring skull fuck of an avant-garde extreme metal album if not for the smoothing effect of the orchestrated bits, the striking variety of the vocal performances, and complete “roundness” of the theme represented therein. Even if we must all die at the end it feels appropriate that the end is a complete and the poetry of Void‘s own has something to add that serves to extend further thought and artistry to the theme. Now, despite my being invested in this album on most levels I can assume the amount of spoken word, sampled speech, and interlude heavy nature of ‘The Hollow Man’ will prove too much for many progressive black metal enthusiasts. There I could feasibly see the experience difficult to repeat on a regular basis depending on how clearly presented the themes are and if any of the context resonates within those compositions. I’d found these shorter transitional pieces a mixed bag to some degree, where “Transition” didn’t amount to much and “V Last Words – Contradictory Reading” eventually became a very mild annoyance yet the somber campfire ballad of “VII Revenge – Babylonian Times” felt pleasingly disjointed and perhaps vital to the second half of the experience without being too brutally obvious. Altogether I’d found ‘The Hollow Man’ held up particularly well in reflection thanks to its oddly memorable moments, the very strong dedication to theme, and the ~40 minute spin being mercifully succinct and more powerful for it. Though it may be somewhat light on riffs and the plain implication we’ve come to expect from intellectualized black metal Void ultimately succeeds for how readable its greater themes end up being, skirting the dull excess of avant-garde extreme metal clichés with ideas that feel distinctly theirs despite it being over a decade since we’d gotten the full picture of what Void is. I’m sure there is much more I could parse, such as the striking artwork from Metastazis or a closer look at similar prog-black acts but we are ultimately served this London unit’s finest work to date, a record that does a fine job making its own case within its finer details, in ‘The Hollow Man’. A very high recommendation, less if you’ve no patience for progressive metal.

High recommendation. (85/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Hollow Man
LABEL(S):Duplicate Records
RELEASE DATE:January 29th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Avant-Garde Black Metal,
Progressive Black Metal

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