While some USA black metal bands have been gaining attention for their decidedly non-kvlt dress sense and embracing of sugar-sweet Shoegaze tones (I’m looking at you Deafheaven), others that dwell in the darkness are more than content to stay there. One such outfit is Santa Cruz natives Fell Voices who with their third release “Regnum Saturni” have banished anything resembling a catchy riff, intelligible vocal line, or indeed, anything approaching a conventional song structure, opting instead for an hour-long blast of thunderous noise that exists on some obscure, windswept plane where black metal, drone and ambient meet.
After a gentle passage of shimmering harmonies that embody the phrase ‘false sense of security’, the assault begins and all we can do is try to withstand the coruscating wall of noise that is opening track ‘Flesh From Bone.’ Even black metal aficionados will have trouble discerning riffs from the howling din, although an all encompassing sense of ominous dread imbues the guitar lines. Vocals are deliberately buried in the mix, evoking the band’s name but the sounds that can be heard are tortured and utterly bereft of hope. The pace eventually slackens and a downbeat, plodding riff begins its grim march before the blasting begins again and all light vanishes into the droning void.
After the relentless fury of those first seventeen (yes seventeen) minutes, the heaving, yet slower, sluggish riffage of next track ‘Emergence’ comes almost as a relief, for although the percussion is still merciless, a dissonant melody emerges from the blackness to alleviate the distress caused by the rapidly increasing tempo. Here the drone element to the band’s sound is given prominence and the effect is one of hypnotic wretchedness until a savage riff and pounding drum section about a third of the way through lend the track an almost tribal feel, accentuated by the far-off howls of the vocalist.
Despite its title, which one would normally associate with themes of hope and optimism, ‘Dawn’ offers little, if any respite. The familiar harmonies that introduce each track lap over distressed tremolo picking before the seething chaos of the guitar lines begin once more, although this time the twisted melody that runs through the noise offers a glimpse of light beyond the horizon. The harrowing, suffocating attack gradually reduces in intensity in the final stages when it’s almost as if the band burns itself out. The effect is akin to a short but violent thunderstorm that rages with apparently limitless power before fading away into the void.
An endurance test for most, a catharsis for some, Fell Voices’ brand of black metal is not for the faint-hearted or easily distracted. Concentration is required to hear the subtle nuances at work within these three epic-length songs, and the sheer speed and density will be too much for most. However, this hyper-fast, corrosive style of music is an exhilarating experience and those who dug last year’s Ash Borer album will be all over “Regnum Saturni” like a black moss.