United States Black Metal (USBM) has been a tricky moniker for a while now. In general, genre tags which revolve around geo-location are extremely limited tools; no geographical unit really has a uniform sound or approach to any style of music. However, there are definitely shared indicators and styles that are transmitted by location and what that location’s culture happens to be; surely no one will refute the fact that Gothenburg death metal has a lot of shared ideas but nor will they claim (if they’re arguing from a fair place) that all of the bands sound the same. This, it is up to us to make sure we don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. We should use these geo-located genres when they’re useful and discard them when they’re not.
This is the kind of approach we should taken when approaching the latest Void Ritual album. This one man project by Daniel Jackson has been around for a while; Jackson himself has been involved with multiple projects, usually from a multi-instrumentalist perspective. His latest release is very much founded within the tropes of USBM, whether Jackson intended that to be the case or not. Thus, you can expect plenty of fast riffs, creating that abrasive feeling that makes black metal what it is, but interjected with more melody than European black metal usually allows its chords. The eponymous “Death is Peace” is a good example of this; the classic riffs hit again and again, backed up by the thick drums and embellished by the blasted heath-land evoking vocals.
Sadly, this is also the album’s weak point: it doesn’t do much that will cause you to sit up in your seat and pay attention, from an innovative perspective. Make no mistake, it’s extremely well made and recorded. But it’s also very safe, walking closely to the line which USBM and, indeed, black metal in general have been towing for years. The cymbal work, the production, the progression on the vocal lines will all be intimately familiar to fans of the genre. The aforementioned track is, once again, a good example of this: when the backing guitar tracks arrive, when the vocals take on amore choir-like quality, the drum fills after the middle of the track, are all black metal to a tee.
Which is not to say there’s nothing on here not worth noting; plenty of the writing on this album is enjoyable. Some departures from standard black metal do exist, in the form of acoustic touches and more ambient moments. But even those deviations are the kind we’ve already heard from USBM. They’re basically the “standard way to be non-standard” when making this type of album. They’re still enjoyable; hearing a hauntingly melodic acoustic guitar alongside blast-beats is always a pleasing experience. But it doesn’t really stick with you because it blends with all the black metal you’ve heard at this point. It’s a good addition to the annals of the genre but it won’t re-write the book on it. Is this a bad thing? It depends on your perspective. If you’re looking for more of some of the crazier things which black metal has been doing in recent years, you won’t find it here. But if you’re looking for a well produced, thought out and professionally executed USBM album, you should definitely check this one out.
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Void Ritual releases on August 3rd with Ipos Music. You can head on over to the Bandcamp link above to pre-order it.