Voices are formed the ashes of the eccentric, extreme metal titans Akercocke, and three of its former members have reclaimed centre stage. The band are fromLondon, UK and are made up of Dan Abela Bass
David Gray Drums
Sam Loynes Guitar and Piano
Peter Benjamin Vocals and Guitar
This album centres around the main protagonist The Actor as he contemplates his own existence as travels through the cultural melting pot that is London and his increasingly more difficult task of attempting to fit in whilst ridding himself of a female fancy. The alluring the wistful Megan.
From the purifying somewhat vulnerable opening chords (and our brilliant introduction to vocalist, Peter Benjamin) of the forebodingly titled Suicide Note, we’re first acquainted with to our aforementioned tragic protagonist: The Actor, a pompous flamboyant, egotistical yet jealous megalomaniac. A perpetually warped, emotionally wrecked individual , The Actor’s brutal self-consciousness is captured extensively, in disconcerting , pertinent detail.
If there were a remedy, a magical pill to stop him thinking all the time, then he would surely take it. If there were a way to silence the constant questioning of every action and reaction, the analysis of every decision, then he might find peace. There must be a way to erase every thought from the head, and to drift into an automatic routine bereft of the constant anxiety of deep thought. Indecision plagues his every move, renders him inert, immobile, passive. Unable to summon the courage to face London; locked away, for days…”The Actor
Evidently, The Actor, gradually driven mad (presumably desensitised through exposure to his overwhelming environment), seems to have developed an unique psychosis, where the city itself has been mentally anthropomorphised, and his every movement is evaluated as a deliberate recital — the script, for which his self-congratulatory mind is always certain to remain two steps ahead of — for an almost ghostly audience. Compellingly self-aware, he experiences seemingly self-imposed trials, finally being poisoned (imagined or otherwise), as his overly suspicious narcissism interprets his immediate surroundings as though they were eyes ensconced in his every movement. His adherence to this performance is so complete that he allegedly tolerates the event.
“…In the hospital light intensity of the café, he gasps bitter coffee, shifting heavily upon rancid furniture. Nobody speaks English here, and he submerges his identity in the anxious cadence of unsympathetic sounding discourse. With time, the ego slowly emerges, and desperation urges his rash exposure to the rancid night air; drinking breaths of sewer sod and smoke, scoring liquorice-black pollution onto the soul. He wretches, and watches the poison hit the sewer grill. Tremulous, he glimpses an artist sketching him from the café window, charcoal tip capturing his trauma on paper. Is this real？Is this happening？What must he look like to the artist, the observer？The reflection in the window surprises him, he scarcely recognizes himself. Why did they poison him？They left this detail out of the script, the director capturing his real reaction. He’s a professional, and delivers a professional performance; they can’t catch him out…”The Actor
The supporting role of this maniacal tale is the object of The Actor’s obsessions – The Actress: Megan. A sexual profligate, and a plot device of hedonistic escapism, Megan is the pitiful archetype of an emotionally hollowed, corrupted woman.
“The emptiness kills
So she fucked herself dry
And could no longer try
To feel anything inside
A black and white still
Of the actress at night
Captured in monochrome
For the theater wall
The mirror can not reflect
The beauty she expects…
…Diseased at the core
Unleashed, set free…
…I have no pride, I have no shame…
…When she became all that she became
There was nothing left to recognise”
Whether or not Megan exists independently of The Actor’s unhinged psyche is never fully revealed, and in all honesty is ultimately insignificant. She is the one significant product of, or deterrent from the sheer schizoid egoism of The Actor’s unraveling mind.
“…He finds his way to the red light again, a beacon of sordid salvation, in the grey pestilence of rain and rubbish bins, where she is waiting, always waiting: Megan…
…For without her, he is without god…
…Yet when parted reduced to a nihilist…”
“Dead London sighs dense anxiety out of black, Westminster lungs, full of sickness. A decomposing clamber infects his every puddle-grazed foot forward, while the population dreams, safely asleep…The Actor
…He travels by night, journeys without destination, in cold buses amidst cold patrons without features. He wonders if indeed they are anything like him, without identity or soul; bereft of purpose, condemned to exist in the small hours. Not real people at all, rats and maggots incapable of keeping the rhythm of humanity, sent alone to survive outside the hive. Distinct from the dealers, pimps, burglars and filth, at least they possess a crass purpose, fighting for urban survival amongst themselves; boldly contaminating Lambeth street corners under pestilential night skies, they retreat as dawn light bleeds through clouds, and the city stirs from slumber…”
“Dystopian”, you say？Hardly. Whilst London’s Neo-Noir cinematic format, and austere, idiosyncratic themes necessarily emphasises the depravity and destitution of its’ locale, there is nothing wholly disconnected from reality, or entirely imagined about London. In the band’s own words, Voices is “The true sound of London”.
Now I’ve set the scene here is my review of the album itself.
I first listened to this album in 2015 a time when I was still fascinated by living in London. Enchanted by the vastness of its suburbia and it still had that sense of wonder that brought me from Glasgow in the first instance. I knew there was a darkness somewhat macabre feel to the city that if I wanted to at any point I could experience. So this album brought that to life and now revisiting in the soon to be post covid period I wondered if I felt the same resonance to this album.
The album chokes the listener with a cacophony of human voices, from shrieks to grunts, clean singing and monologues from both men and women. It’s as diverse, populated, and claustrophobic as the London which the lyrics obsess over, a city full of hiding places between sharp opposing surfaces. The characters in the narrative are constantly moving through alleys and archways. The iconic Cold Harbour Lane even makes an appearance, and the very geometry of urban living is reflected in the album’s angular and compressed guitar work, precision drumming, and atmospheric electronics. If that sounds like an awful lot to digest, and not entirely comfortable to listen to, well, so is city living.
Claustrophobia is key here, and while the underground seems to be shying away from slick, modern sounds in favour of more pastoral and earthy sounds, London is as evocative of its namesake as any given US folk-black group might be of middle America, though it doesn’t particularly make me want to hop on a flight to the US. That said, the labyrinthine sonic tapestry that Voices are weaving on this album is one I’ve found myself drawn to more than a few times.
And Voices has been weaving for quite some time, even though their first record under this moniker only dropped last year. The band was formed by two remaining members of British blackened death outfit Akercocke, a band whose output I indulged in around the same time as I was discovering Behemoth and Belphegor. Self Indulgent is a great way of talking about Akercocke—the group differentiated themselves from their sex-and-Satan obsessed peers by being immaculately dressed, giving stellar interviews, and playing with more sonic elements than their contemporaries. Still, Akercocke were a blue-balling band. They never quite got me off, though I always knew they had the potential to do so. On London, guitarist/vocalist Peter Benjamin and drummer David Gray finally give up the goods.
A sprinkling of prog influences perfects the Akercocke formula. Where Behemoth are trying to sound ancient, Gray and Benjamin sound unabashedly modern, mixing some light Meshuggah-isms with the occasional acoustic interlude, and clean vocals reminiscent of early period Solefald. That is to say, the cleans are overwrought and dryly intoned, reminiscent of musical theater, but delivering pretentiousness and portents in equal measure. “Music for the Recently Bereaved” blasts and groove with equal aplomb, while “The Fuck Trance,” juxtaposes rhythmic electronic pulses with impassioned vocals and broken piano melodies, each set to drumming with the merciless efficiency of a Sybian machine—at a point in time, all the sensory overload becomes pure catharsis. Most importantly, London feels like a cohesive work. The next song begins before the last song break on the MP3, and the spoken word pieces roughly divide the story of this concept album into three acts.
Not that I’m entirely sure what the concept is. After repeated listens I know only that it concerns the nature of being an artist, the experience of living in the titular city, and a woman.
Megan. If the album had another title it would be Megan. A woman repeats her name over and over until it becomes a mantra, and then an electronic loop—a functioning piece of the sound’s mechanics—on the song bearing her name. I found myself asking questions less about the nature of art and more about who this character is. Presumably she’s an unsavory lover—the song “Last Train Victoria Line” consists of an extended series of questions: “Do you ever think of him when you’re fucking me?” These interrogatives are met by throat-curdling screams, in a sort of call-and-response not unlike what Eminem employed in the song “Kill You”
The band members have a track record of nonviolent, though distracting, misogyny. In the music video to the Akercocke song “Leviathan,” the band sits in lavish chairs, enjoying a striptease while the song’s chorus implores “I wish to be alone with my god.” The disconnect between music and narrative bugged me then as it bugged me now. I assume that I’m meant to think of Megan as some femme fatale of sorts but something about the delivery leads me to believe that if Megan were a real person she might have more in common with women I’ve dated in the past.
I can’t lay all the blame for this on Voices. The band isn’t responsible for the atmosphere into which they release their album, nor for any baggage of mine which I project onto their work.The album is harrowing as it is evocative, and full of ideas—mostly good ones. It’s even a strong argument that modern production isn’t completely played-out. Here Voices are, convincing me to say nice things alongside my misgivings. Something tells me they’d like that—it’s in the spirit of London. Or maybe, like the Megan that some of the lyrics portray, I just like a real bad good time. In answer to the question I posed at the start of this review I think the darkness is more prevalent in the post covid landscape and I shall cloak myself within said darkness.