For the last several years, the man behind the mysterious black metal act Voidcraeft has been dutifully toiling like a reclusive cenobite to craft some of the most otherworldly and inspired extreme metal around. Drawing equally from the pools of classic second wave black metal like Paysage d’Hiver as well as the gonzo stylings of xenharmonic alchemists like Jute Gyte, Voidcraeft has been writing angular, discordant black metal at an unrelenting pace. I’ve been meaning to cover Voidcraeft for quite some time now, but it almost seems that he drops a new record just as I’ve wrapped my mind around the previous album. Most fascinating, though, is the way the multi-instrumentalist documents his own process of creation. On new EP Dogma, Voidcraeft gave himself an even more daunting challenge: create and abide by formalized rules of creation.
Naturally, the idea of writing music by preestablished rules is far from novel. Other acts in rock and metal, such as The Mars Volta and The Human Abstract, have set personal rules or guidelines for upcoming records, but Voidcraeft’s case is intriguing in that the inspiration for his new ordinances lies not within the realm of metal, but rather film. As Voidcraeft details on his Bandcamp page, his new rules for writing music were inspired by Lars von Trier’s and Thomas Vinterberg’s Dogme 95.
For those unfamiliar with the world of film, Dogme 95 was a pretentious manifesto penned by the Danish directors as a means of rejecting the special effects-driven bloat of big budget Hollywood action films. The manifesto’s precepts are essentially:
- Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
- The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)
- The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
- The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
- Optical work and filters are forbidden.
- Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
- Genre movies are not acceptable.
- The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
- The director must not be credited.
von Trier’s and Vinterberg’s manifesto was an attempt to reclaim artistry for the directors from studios; in practicality, the rules produced gratuitously hedonistic and provocative films like Idioterne. Does Voidcraeft’s own creation avoid the pitfall of butt-spelunking that self-indulging artistry perpetuates?
Let’s examine Voidcraeft’s own rules for a start.
- Rule of Sound: Only the following sounds may be used: distorted guitars, distorted bass, acoustic drums (no drum machine), high-pitched/low-pitched growls. Each one of these types of sound must be used at least once per track.
- Rule of Recording: Each instrumental track and the vocals must be recorded in one continuous take, no segmented recording is permitted. The playback rate and the offsets of samples may not be digitally altered after they have been recorded.
- Rule of Aggression: Each track must feature at least 30 seconds of blast beat (either traditional or hammer blast).
- Rule of Effort: A track must be at least 2 minutes and 30 seconds in length and a release must be at least 40 minutes in length.
- Rule of Language: The lyrics of a release must be written in a natural language (as opposed to constructed languages) and not more than one language may be used per release.
These rules seem, at least in part, a response to Voidcraeft’s own workflow. Since the musician effectively began his career in 2013, he’s released 4 full lengths and 13 EPs. While that work ethic is certainly admirable, you can’t exactly be faulted for wondering if Voidcraeft could benefit from reining in his creative process. The rules above, at least, seem to have addressed this issue, and others, to a degree.
In many ways, setting specific guidelines for creation seems to have benefitted Voidcraeft. In comparison to his earlier works like Ascetic Elite and Faceless Epoch, Dogma feels trim, brisk, and direct. The riffs, while still angular and spectral, have been pared down to their sharpest and most visceral. The organic drums are a welcome touch as well, though some may miss the cold mechanism of his earlier rhythmic work reminiscent of Blut Aus Nord. Plus, the EP’s shorter run-time, likely a function of Rule 2, seems to have counterintuitively allowed some of Voidcraeft’s best ideas to bubble the surface. There’s a greater sense of melodicism (heard in the Void Omnia-invoking leads) and dynamics than on previous effort Un futur cadavre, no mean feat considering that the albums were released only a month apart. Take a listen to Un futur cadavre below and see if you can spot the differences yourself.
Paradoxically, Un futur cadavre seems the more indulgent of the two records, evident in the way certain note passages, such as the transition riffs in “Vida surhumain” carry on just a bit longer than expected. Perhaps this result is indeed a function of the rules themselves. Although we often consider rules as limiting our personal freedoms (creative or otherwise), we may actually be viewing the process of rule-following from a misguided epistemology. Philosopher Crispin Wright, on evaluating Wittgenstein and Chomsky, noted that “if we follow [rules], then presumably they lead.” This seems to actually be the case for both von Trier and Voidcraeft. For his directorial work on The Idiots, von Trier claimed accolades from the Bodil Awards, Cannes Film Festival, and more. Similarly, Voidcraeft, in attempting to follow his own rules for songcrafting, seems to have produced some of his most vital work to date.
Of note, though, is the fact that both von Trier and Voidcraeft immediately broke their own rules upon setting those prescriptions. von Trier intervened with location on the set of Idioterne, and final track “No Words” clocks in at less than two minutes. In fact, it seems that both artists are incapable of getting out of their own ways during the process of creation. von Trier’s Nymphomaniac has been described as “infurating self-indulgence,” while Voidcraeft readily admits his own hubris on his Bandcamp page. He even goes so far as to abase himself for refashioning a drawing of Fyodor Dostoyevsky into his own image, but the shame at doing so wasn’t quite enough to overcome his conceit.
Ultimately, I think it is that conceit, juxtaposed against his earnestness, that makes Voidcraeft, and his music by extension, so fascinating. Few artists today demonstrate such candor and willingness to open the veil and grant us a look at the creation process, warts and all. Voidcraeft’s detailed creation process hearkens back to the heyday of liner notes and inside peeks that seems to have fallen to the wayside in the digital era. For this reason (and for the ripping black metal certain to suit fans of outré acts like Dodecahedron and Thantifaxath), Voidcraeft deserves whatever attention his indulgence gains him.