In the glut of new releases and promotions in support of the ACLU last Friday, it would have been easy to miss the fact that our old pal Dan from Void Ritual dropped an excellent new release. Get caught up here for an introspective view into Void Ritual 2K17.
Spirits of the Black Past is a bit of an odd release, one offering more of a state of the Void Ritual union than a definitive artistic work of new material. To wit, only five of the eight tracks included on the album are new; two are updates of older tracks, and one is a cover of Immortal‘s “Mountains of Might.” Daniel Jackson himself, multi-instrumentalist and sole member of Void Ritual, describes the record as a “special release” rather than a proper full-length on his Facebook page. So what exactly does this special release say about Void Ritual?
For one, Daniel’s songwriting skills and instrumental prowess are as sharp as ever. While previous releases Holodomor and the split with Barshasketh featured plenty of razor riffs and icy melodies, the five new tracks on display here speak to a musician who has really hit his stride and found the proper balance between beauty and ugliness, harmony and bleakness, that he always sought. There’s a stunning diversity on display across the five new songs that definitely sets them apart from past material.
While “Of Wolves & Cowardice” and “A Mockery of Flesh & Bone” feature lightning fast rhythms pitted against anguished vocals and mesmerizingly melodic tremolo riffs, songs like “Born of Ash” counterbalance the blasts and harmonies with a slow, righteous stomp and head-crushing riffs. Dan knows that moderation is key, though, so even as slower tracks open up into blast sections, he never lingers too long in one mode; the riffs in “Vanish” branch and mutate like lightning forking through a ragged sky, branching from one set of notes to the next with electric energy and stunning brilliance. Unique little lead flourishes, like the brief runs that morph into heavily melodic shifting lines at the end of “A Mockery of Flesh & Bone” or the opening solo in “A Thirsty Delirium,” act as the capstone on a beautifully refined songwriting sensibility.
For the real evidence of Daniel’s current, skill, however, it pays to examine the two updated tracks. “Holodomor,” originally featured on the EP of the same name, was revised just this year and features enhanced clarity and weight. The updated production goes quite a way to let the riffs smack with greater force atop the drum work, but the real polish is given to the vocal performance. The original vocal effort in “Holodomor,” though quite mournful, sounds downright thin and empty compared to the updated, decidedly wretched, rework. “Benevolent Mother” from the split with Barshasketh similarly benefits from the added clarity and sonic depth; the melodic riffs are given a deeper base within which to shimmer and shine, driving home that duality modern Void Ritual captures so well.
The weakest track on Spirits of the Black Past, unsurprisingly, is the cover of Immortal’s “Mountains of Might.” Although the song adequately captures the cold majesty of Immortal, it sounds almost a bit too mechanical and rigid, especially in comparison to the more carefully constructed and organic original tracks that follow it. Still, the power of the riffs is undeniable.
As a statement of intent, Spirits of the Black Past does much to cement Void Ritual’s legacy as the best band in New Mexico, and bodes well for future work. Though not quite a full release, this album offers us some fantastic new content and demonstrates just how heartfelt and powerful Daniel Jackson’s stirringly melodic take on US black metal can be. I can’t wait to hear what Dan has in store for us in the future.