While British black metal currently finds itself in rude health, it’s noticeable that much of it is towards the less savage end of the dark spectrum. For example, Winterfylleth, a band full of melody with a heavy Primordial influence, are one of the harshest of the better UK bands to emerge since Anaal Nathrakh. This suggests a few too many of their peers spend too much time looking at their shoes instead of conjuring sulphurous fiery Hell. Voices buck that trend in spectacular, nasty, venomous fashion.
To say From The Human Forest… is nasty doesn’t begin to cover the full horror. To say it’s crazily debauched, viciously spiteful and genuinely unnerving is closer, but it still can’t quite convey how monumentally fucked-up it truly is – and overlooks the occasional moments of brightness.
Formed out of the ashes of Akercocke (David Gray is a welcome presence behind the kit again, along with guitarist Sam Loynes and bassist Peter Benjamin, who provides the throat-searing vocals), Voices are miles away from the imagery of misty wetlands and rain-drenched moors currently en vogue. Instead, they cloak you in urban isolation, but in profoundly different ways to Anaal Nathrakh’s grimy industrial grind or A Forest Of Stars’ wandering Victoriana.
The atmosphere veers between oppressive, claustrophobic neurosis, the overbearing press of humanity and concrete assailing you from all sides in a Deathspell Omega-like mindfuck. Rather than lashing out at the confinement, Voices appear cut off from any target at which to vent, and instead rail internally in impotent frustration, chest-beating, angular fury and blasting self-loathing pouring forth in a thoroughly pant-soiling manner. But, like city life itself, their trials and dismay are interspersed with moments of genuine warmth, safety and, very occasionally, beauty.
Sometimes the latter is achieved through sultry female vocals – such as the lilting refrain in Eyes Become Black – or through clever use of piano or strings. But it’s most shockingly effective when guitar atonality suddenly resolves into melody, as Sexual Isolation does artfully. Percolating throughout everything is a priapic sexuality, a sense of urgent, overpowering need to release that is both frightening and thrilling, and one that is never resolved. Rather than providing overt catharsis – compromising the horrific picture it paints with a get-out at the end – it persists in awfulness and arousal right up to the very end. There is no relief, nor should there be; the tone is of unresolved tension, of unfulfilled desire, and a resolution would break that feel.
It leaves you unspent, highly charged and wanting more, just as the music is throughout. Voices spew a frenzy of brutality and evil that revels in obscenity and terror, simultaneously exhilarated and disturbed by themselves, and ever so slightly reviled by their enjoyment of such depravity. They also leave you feeling similarly guilty at just how excited you are by them. From The Human Forest… is upsetting, thrilling and twisted. It’s also quite brilliant.