At immense risk to my metal cred, let it be known right off the bat that I’ve never learned to appreciate or enjoy overly dissonant metal. That is why I approached the assignment to review Voidthrone’s debut album Spiritual War Tactics with slight unease and trepidation. Although I respect its cerebral nature and modus operandi of challenging the listener, in my ears dissonant metal usually devolves into a quasi-academic exercise in frustration that sounds marvelous only at the level of grand theory. The lack of catchy riffs, meaty hooks and cathartic release evokes a feeling of experiencing colossal constipation when suffocating in an overcrowded New York City rush hour subway train with failed AC on the warmest day of summer, while the tie around your neck begins to feel like a noose and you can hear your fellow passengers grinding their collective teeth in anger and frustration. Hence this young destruction crew, formed in Seattle, Washington in early 2016, faced an unenviable challenge of dispelling my prejudice and convincing my sonic sensibilities. Could they hope to succeed where scene veterans have largely failed?
Color me impressed, but Voidthrone sure knows how to deliver the goods with the precision and assault of a well-oiled war machine providing volley after volley of carefully maneuvered strafing fire. Despite the pitch-black darkness and grime permeating the album, Voidthrone presents a journey that remains dynamic throughout the album thanks to multiple curveballs lobbed throughout the album. Where your regular peddlers of dissonance would be content locking into an ultra-sophisticated yet lifeless groove and sustaining it ad infinitum for its own sake, Voidthrone has a knack for avoiding a boring exhibition of avant-garde music theory that lacks a pulse. In fact, all of the four songs are surprisingly catchy, with twisted melodic undercurrents accompanying the barrage of dissonance.
Take for instance the early highlight in the form of the opening song “Mortification of My Legacy”: Following a somewhat unassuming start, the band launches into a no-holds barred rampage at the 2:09 mark, alternating between brief slower breaks and moments of acceleration transitioning into a series of disorienting riffs leading into a heaving lurch starting around the five-minute mark, interspersed with sudden fret board runs before the pummeling increases from 6:25 onwards, sprinkled with tasty details such as skipped chords and mournful lead melodies with hints of epic confidence.
Somewhat unusual to the sub-genre, Voidthrone does not shy away from introducing a morbid playfulness with a, dare I say, funky groove and snappy twang. No doubt this is thanks to the prowess and songwriting influence of Austin Schmalz which is gained playing bass in the funk/jazz band Topless Pit. His bass growls, bends and bounces with authority, and together with drums provides a rugged backbone for the ensuing annihilation that levels city blocks.
If I happened to harbor initial doubts regarding the maturity and chops these gents already possess, those were swept away immediately upon realizing that the songs feel way more compact and cohesive than the nine-minute run-time of each of the first three songs would imply. This is how you should write complex, lengthy songs.
It is truly rare that a band representing a sub-genre I’ve usually de-prioritized shatters my deep-seated preconception and childish aversion. Voidthrone is currently writing its sophomore album scheduled for release later this year. The band recently recruited Mac Boyd as second guitarist and considering his background playing powerviolence in Dad Jazz, his arrival should inject another dose of brutal intensity in Voidthrone’s sonic palette. Personally, I am already awaiting their upcoming tour de force with bated breath.