What’s the difference between a good and a bad retro act? In my opinion, if you’re simply going to emulate the sounds of your favourite 90s black metal acts, you’re already at an artistic failstate. Odds are, you’re not going to out-Darkthrone Darkthrone. You’re not going to one-up Mayhem at their own game. Sure, it’s fine to build the basis of your sound upon the foundation these bands built in the 90s, but if you’re going to leave it at that, if you’re not going to add any of your own ideas, personality or charm, why should I bother listening to you instead of the classics? Unfortunately, Over the Voids, the one-man black metal project by The Fall (of Mgla fame), is a bad retro band.
Don’t get me wrong, the dude can play. The album is quite clearly the work of a very competent musician, and the performance is never the issue. It’s the songwriting, or lack thereof. Repetition is a very valid, and oftentimes useful musical tool. To cash in on suspense, you’ve gotta actually build some first. Repetition is very good at this. However, go back to the same well too many times and you run the risk of boring your audience. Most bands don’t struggle too much in deciding when a particular riff has run its course, but this is one of the areas Over the Voids seriously stumbles in. Generic riffs that sound like they could be off of any mid-90s Norwegian black metal album are repeated ad nauseum to the point where I’m practically begging for something, anything at all, to happen. The worst part? Not a single one of these songs is under five minutes. That’s a whole lot of foot-dragging.
Over the course of the album’s four songs we’re treated to a few instances of clean singing, none of which are very compelling. We also get to hear some acoustic guitar work, which is, again, not all that exciting. In fact, the album’s opener, “Battle of Heaven” features an acoustic segment that consists of the same ten second passage of music being repeated for four minutes. Making it worse is the fact that these segments simply feel tacked on, and they never really add anything to the songs, other than padding.
In fact, that’s what this album feels like. The four songs on Over the Voids feel like padding for other, better songs that someone simply forgot to include.
That said, the album isn’t abysmally bad. 90s black metal, even in its most default, vanilla state has a base level of enjoyability that saves Over the Voids from being a complete loss. The tremolos are chilly, the blast beats are blast-beaty, and the vocals are gruff. In a way though, this makes Over the Voids even more irritating, since all the staple ingredients are present, but the band refuses to add any of the secret sauce.
Over the Voids is an album that could have been a lot more than it is. The Fall started this project to pay homage to the grim black metal of yesteryear, but in doing so, he’s created an album that most likely would have been forgotten by now if it was actually released in the 90s. Still, he’s a very competent musician, as his tenure in one of modern black metal’s most beloved acts should prove, and if he takes this release as a learning experience and does more to distinguish Over the Voids from the myriad of other nostalgic meat-n-potatoes black metal acts out there, album #2 could end up being quite the stomper. ‘Till then however, I’m just not feeling it.
You can find Over the Voids on the band’s Bandcamp page.