When it finally came time for Warforged to announce their long anticipated follow-up to 2014’s Essence of the Land, spirits were high in the Heavy Blog camp. The aforementioned release was a favorite of many on the blog and the long period of silence which followed it was a frustrating one. But as the release drew closer a familiar concern started to creep into at least this editor’s heart: would I: Voice live up to the expectations of five years and the little tidbits that had been released here and there during that period? Furthermore, as the list of expected contributors grew (these include, just as a sample, names like Christian Münzner; Poh Hock from Native Construct and Replacire; Navene Koperweis; Tymon Kruidenier; and Artifical Brain‘s Will Smith) and the runtime for the album seemed to cross an hour’s length, another question started to creep up: will the album be cohesive or will it crash under five year’s of not only expectation but also pent up ambition and passion from the musicians involved?
Luckily, I: Voice, somehow, has managed to pull it all off. It’s a supremely sprawling album that manages to make everything on it, be it progressive death metal, deathcore, atmoblack, tech death, and more somehow fit together. Naturally, this also makes it quite a difficult beast to review. Thus, I would like to zoom in on a triplet of tracks which, I feel, capture not only the vibe of the album but, more importantly, the dexterity and variety present on it. We’ll start on the second track, “Beneath the Forest Floor”. Picking up on the off-kilter ending of the opening track, “Beneath the Forest Floor” starts off heavy as all hell. The guitars and bass act in unison, backed up by incredible drumming from Jason Nitts (a level of performance which repeats throughout the release), to create a crushing riff.
Quickly though, after Adrian Perez’s vocals have had their first say, things go atmospheric. The heaviness is still there but it’s punctuated by these odd guitar chords and ethereal bass, while the drums continue to churn out blastbeat after blastbeat. Suddenly, there’s melody and open chords which then, inexorably, collapse back into that opening riff. This exemplifies the progressive tendencies on the album, as it moves from chamber to chamber of pulses, like a breathing animal going through different phases and breaths. There’s always a plan and a direction (here provided by that backbone opening riff) but things around it are unexpected and wild, like that animal. Sometimes, it rests, like this track does around the four minute mark and its melodic interlude only to then explode again, Perez’s vocals running a whiplash of fire down your back, ushering in an Opeth influenced riff.
Speaking of Opeth, or more accurately about Mikael Åkerfeldt, that melodic interlude is also set to return before the track’s outro. It then morphs, led by haunting synths and cavernous silence, into the outro itself which reminds us of Åkerfeldt’s Storm Corrosion (with Steven Wilson, of course) in its synth tones and overall approach to a kind of weird, off-kilter, on-the-edge-of-disharmony ambiance. These notes, at the end of such a heavy track, are what leads us into “Cellar”. Once again building off of the more quiet ending of the previous track, “Cellar” opens as in a mirror of “Beneath the Forest Floor” with an incredibly heavy riff and equally devastating vocals. But this mirror reflects darkly; everything is more. The vocals are more guttural, the main riff is more chaotic, the bass is louder, the drums are more hectic, the guitars more chaotic. The previous track changes context then: we were being lead further into the album, into the “Cellar” in which we now reside, a deeper, danker place.
When it’s time to dive into the melodic, eerie passages again, they too have been amplified. The middle passage of this track can’t really even be called an interlude anymore; it’s a full part of the track and those Storm Corrosion influences/The Raven That Refused to Sing influences are even more expertly used and felt. I can’t stress this enough: comparisons are never meant to be disparaging but this is doubly the case here. The way these progressive influences are baked into the album are simply brilliant, elevating them to some higher plane of hallucination by bracketing them between so much heaviness. The solo which follows this part also expertly capitalizes on that weird vibe to set us up for one of the fastest segments on the album, everything tying together into a dizzying culmination of the first part of the album.
Only one part of this review is left to us then; following up on “Cellar”‘s fury, “Nightfall Came” is one of the more moving and progressively melodic tracks on the album. While the vocals are still harsh and abrasive, the instrumentation emphasizes big melodic moments, the main riff of the track being more “open” and brighter. The heaviness is still there but it’s as if something of those ambient sections that we’ve passed has rubbed off on the heavier instruments. Amidst all of this, the track also channels some nasty, groovy segments, echoing Alkaloid and, beyond them, Morbid Angel.
This shorter track, with its groove and oddity living side by side where they were somewhat lined out and kept separate before, does little to prepare us for what’s ahead, as Warforged plan to sink deeper into the depths of I: Voice and the abysses they hold (you’re not ready, for example, for the tortured vocals of “Voice”, which follow). But what it does do is re-contextualize the two (probably three, if we’re being honest) tracks that came before it and prepare them for the rest of the album.
That’s how Warforged have managed to pull off an album this complex and dense, making it sound cohesive; a sort of organic structure is maintained throughout, weaving influences, ideas, and sounds into each other. There aren’t many tracks that fit simple labels like “the deathcore track”, the “ambient interlude”, “the death metal track”. Instead, the miasma of I: Voice infects all with a unique and hard to pin down weirdness that makes it work as a whole. To be sure, it takes a lot of effort to parse but for those willing to follow the signs and dictionaries left behind by the band, one of the best metal albums of 2019 awaits on the other side of understanding.
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Warforged’s I: Voice releases on May 10th. You can pre-order it via the Bandcamp page above; please do! Independent artists deserve your support.