VoidCeremony - Threads of Unknowing (2023)Release ID: 43727
Following my immediate purchase on CD of VoidCeremony's debut album in 2020 after just a couple of streams online, I was keeping an eye out for the follow up for what felt like an eternity. With its bass-heavy presence the debut took the prog element of prog-death and put it on a plinth all of its own before surrounding it with some great OSDM vibes to ground proceedings nicely. Some three years later and Threads of Unknowing picks up essentially where Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel left off. Damon Good's bass still commands a lot of attention (and rightly so) and that OSDM vibe is still present also, thankfully.
The main immediate difference to note this time is that production job that makes the drums sound like they are incredibly brittle. Despite the obvious hard work of Charles Koryn, his efforts are stifled somewhat by knob-twiddler, Gabriele Gramaglia. The leads shine well enough though. Soaring and uplifting, they do a quality job of expanded the soundscape of Threads... without giving us any pretentious traits to get annoyed over. These cleaner, more progressive elements are the strongest part of the album for me and I agree that VoidCermony do work better as a progressive outfit as opposed to a technical/prog-death band. I do not have a problem with the vocals actually. I can see where the aversion comes from but I find them perfectly acceptable.
Whilst I am not as instantly blown away by their sophomore album, I still find Threads of Unknowing to be a solid record and one that does grow with each listen. Yes, it is bottom-heavy, with the second half of the record easily outstripping the first half, but this is still a mighty fine album, delivered by some very professional sounding individuals. Drums aside, I have no real issue here.
Threads of Unknowing's smothering of it's tech-death aspirations with the filth-ridden atmospherics of old-school death metal results in a classic case of an album falling between two stools and failing to satisfy the occupiers of either of them. I can't imagine for one minute that any adherent of the more expansive side of technical death metal, which VoidCeremony seemingly wish to align themselves with, are at all appreciative of the muddiness that the production has bestowed upon the album's sound. It seems to detract from the efficacy of the technical elements, elements which are surely better served by the clarity of a cleaner production. On the other hand, acolytes of the Morbid Angel / Autopsy cavernous approach are unlikely to be overly impressed by the album's technicalities.
I am becoming increasingly self-conscious about my aversion to the more technical forms of metal and I really wish I could "get it" so that I didn't appear to be such a glaring ignoramus, but I just don't I'm afraid. I guess my relationship with music and metal in particular is more based on either the buzz metal creates with it's energy as personified in memorable killer riffs and searing solos or in all-encompassing atmospheres, be it the expansiveness of atmospheric black metal's nature-based themes or the oppressive darkness of funeral and death doom, sludge or drone metal. To me, technical-based metal of the type that VoidCeremony deal in, is just too counter to what I look for and is probably better suited to people who are more interested in the intricacies of music production itself. I understand the compulsion to be challenged by art and to venture outside one's comfort zone, but I've played that game and have no further wish to expend a huge amount of time and mental energy on something I derive little enjoyment from. This somewhat rambling explanantion is by way of an apology as to why I am unable to get on board with what a band like VoidCeremony are trying to achieve, a problem have encountered previously with the likes of Gorguts' Obscura album.
Now, it isn't all bad news for me with Threads of Unknowing, because suddenly, in the album's latter stages, things take a turn for the better as the band turn a corner onto a more progressive road. At the Periphery of Human Realms (The Immaterial Grave) is a rather lengthy title for what feels like an instrumental intro into the progressive epic that closes out the album, Forlorn Portrait: Ruins of an Ageless Slumber. I wouldn't say they abandon their technical approach completely here, but they do dial it back a bit and lean much more towards a progressive style, a move that I am much more in support of. The last track in particular sounds much more like something King Crimson may have laid down around their Red era, had they been even remotely interested in death metal. This track just flows so much better than the earlier techy tracks and the changes in tempo and timbre are much less jarring and feel much more organic.
I agree with other reviewers that the deeply growled vocals are distracting and sound completely out of place for the majority of the album, a harsher vocal with a bit of a higher register feels like it would be much more appropriate, but I guess the band knew what they were aiming for. So, in summary I would have to say that Threads of Unknowing feels like a worthy misfire to me. Whilst I applaud the band's unconventional approach to technical DM, the production is just too anomalous and does the band no favours at all. I enjoyed their efforts significantly more on the two closing tracks which took a more progressive approach than the earlier tracks' technicalities which, frankly, left me cold.
20 Buck Spin has become a record label that I tend to explore with mild trepidation. While I cannot deny that they consistently distribute solid modern metal bands with an old school approach, much of it has started to become stale. Many of the labels death metal records have very similar tropes to them that cannot be overlooked and it does make much of their recent output a lot less interesting than if I was listening to it for the first time. Case in point, VoidCeremony. While much further towards the technical side of death metal than a band like Tomb Mold, something about the production of the record cannot help but make some very clear parallels.
Perhaps it comes through in the compositions, which are typically well done, but also rely heavily on played out death metal tropes; such as guitar pinch harmonics, whiplash tempo/style changes and Cookie Monster vocals. These are not necessarily bad on their own, but when put together, they give Threads of Unknowing a sense of comfort and familiarity that I don't think VoidCeremony would want. The album does have a heavy emphasis on bass leads instead of simply doubling the guitar riffs, which I certainly approve of. If there is anything that will make this album stand out in comparison to its label companions, it will be this. Having a technical death metal band such as VoidCeremony incorporate Ne Obliviscaris type polyphony into their music is a welcome treat. The closing track is also quite interesting as well. Even though it does suffer a bit from tempo/style whiplash, VoidCeremony have done a good job of creating a progressive metal epic that stays the course feels like a completed idea instead of a fragmented piecemeal.
Of course these bass lines would not as focal to the album as it is if the production was lousy. And while the guitars do have some great chunk to them, they never feel overpowering. In fact, I would say that the main guitar riffing is almost secondary to the bass lines. The band does find room to fit in a couple of blistering guitar solos throughout the album as well and they do a great job of peaking a listeners interest by having that drastic change in timbre without losing any of the song/album momentum. The vocals are... well they are very gargled and take a lot of pointers from Tomb Mold and Tzompantli in that regard. These vocals just do not interest me and are the aspect that I think most casual listeners will pick up directly as a "20 Buck Spin trope".
Threads of Unknowing is not a bad record, but I think it could have been more than what its trying to be. In the vein of progressive death metal, VoidCeremony have chops and decent influences to draw from, but in terms of its execution, it lacks character. This is by no fault of their own in my opinion, but perhaps VoidCeremony would benefit from digging into their progressive influence more; I could see this band taking a solid page out of In Mourning's playbook and do something really special. For now, keep this band on your radar if you like any style of progressive death metal.
Best Songs: Writhing in the Facade of Time, Abyssic Knowledge Bequeathed, Entropic Reflections Continuum
I’ve been aware of Californian death metallers VoidCeremony for five or six years now & have given all of their proper releases a casual listen at various stages so the nomination of their brand new sophomore album for feature release status was warmly received, especially given that I already had “Threads of Unknowing” on my list of records to check out over the next month or so. In saying that though, they’ve never quite been able to seal the deal for me with all three of the releases I’ve heard showing promise but failing to deliver that knockout punch. Initial reports seem to indicate that this may be the one that sees them finally dropping those shackles & making room for themselves amongst the more essential artists in the tech death movement though so my hopes were high going into my first listen.
Those hopes begun to falter fairly quickly though it has to be said. The production job on “Threads of Unknowing” sounds like they've taken an each-way bet as there’s enough clarity for you to easily make out all of the individual components however it’s far dirtier than I would like for such a technically-inclined release. It seems like they’ve intentionally kept a layer of filth over the recording in order to maintain that elusive death metal street credibility that can either make or break a modern extreme metal band but the result is simply not what’s going to best support an artist like VoidCeremony whose appeal is in no small part based on their expansiveness & creativity. They would have been far better served by a glistening progressive metal production job that better highlighted the deviations from the standard death metal model but, as it stands, some of these sections take a bit of digging before they become apparent.
The lineup for “Threads of Unknowing” is the same as for last year’s “At The Periphery of Human Realms” demo with the credentials of band leader Garrett Johnson’s trio of supporting musicians being almost too significant to fit on the one page. Guitarist Philippe Tougas has an enormous pedigree in extreme metal with his resume including time with the likes of Atramentus, Chthe'ilist, Cosmic Atrophy, First Fragment, Funebrarum, Worm, Equipoise, Eternity's End, Serocs, Vengeful & Zealotry. The dual axe attack is joined by Australian metal royalty in bassist Damon Good of Cauldron Black Ram, Martire, Mournful Congregation & StarGazer fame while drummer Charles Koryn has amassed an equally impressive music career with bands like Ascended Dead, Chthonic Deity, Decrepisy, Funebrarum & Ghoulgotha. That’s a fuck-tonne of recording experience right there so it’s a little bit of a shame that the production issues I mentioned have dulled the brightness of some pretty wonderful performances.
Before going into “Thread of Unknowing”, I’d been led to believe that it was Void Ceremony’s most progressive release to date but the first four tracks only show glimpses of that with the majority of that material staying in the tech death space for the most part. It’s only really the last two tracks that see the band flexing their creative muscles a little further which is a bit of a shame as these moments seem to elevate things to another level, particularly the more expansive, jazz-inspired solos & Good's angular bass lines which are the clear highlights of the album. The hints at an early 90’s progressive death metal influence (Atheist, Cynic, Death, etc.) are most welcome & I’m hopeful that we’ll see those expanded upon in the future. Unfortunately, the production tends to take the edge off a bit as it doesn’t seem to want to let VoidCeremony free itself of its association with Immolation/Morbid Angel style death metal. The generic death growls don’t help there either to be fair which is a real shame as it feels like the band were being held back a bit.
Look, “Threads of Unknowing” is far from a disappointment. On the contrary, it’s a very consistent tech death outing from a group of quality performers. I think I’m perhaps just being a little harsh on it given the clear potential for greater things. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next VoidCeremnoy record sees them dropping death metal altogether & presenting the world with something significantly more adventurous & I for one hope that’s the case but for the time being we’ll have to be satisfied with what we have here i.e. a pretty decent example of the technical/progressive death metal sound that should appeal to fans of StarGazer, Ænigmatum & Lunar Chamber.