In a recent Heavy Blog AMA, the staff was asked about our listening and reviewing process. Specifically, our sense of how long it takes us to form an idea of how good an album is on our initial spin. This is a super great question to ask anyone, and an even more interesting question to pose to a group of music nerds. Obviously, everyone addresses things differently and the varying circumstances surrounding each listen shape our analysis. My approach is to press play and let it ride, listening passively to see if anything catches my ear. That’s precisely how I tackled Louisiana quartet Forming the Void’s latest. I put it on, took a couple simple notes over the course of my listening: dig this groove at X:XX, this kind of sounds like (band), these tracks play nicely together, etc. Still I couldn’t help but feel like the appropriately titled Reverie, completely slipped by me. Ensuing listens had me scratching my head by some of what I jotted down. What I heard and what I thought I heard were two completely different things. The 37-minute runtime completely blew by me, I had assumed each listen consumed the better part of an hour. The effortlessness of it completely contradicted what revealed itself over further listening. What? Why? How? Hold your tiny horses, I’ll tell you…
Forming the Void’s modus operandi on their latest is easy to define yet difficult to explain. Reverie has its feet firmly planted in the realm of stoner/doom metal. Yeah, there are some riffs to be had here. Of course the guitar tones are massive. And what fun is any of this if your brain isn’t getting riddled by some suberbly heady mystical or metaphysical themes? But throughout, Forming the Void maintain this overarching sense of calm, warmth, and comfort The conventional dread, gloom, or rage is supplanted by this almost affirming, uplifting tone. Each track works its way through similar dynamics: shifting between loose, psyched-out grooves and the punchier, voluminous genre staples. Opening combo “Sage” and “Onward Through the Haze” are a nice introduction without giving away much of the record’s later secrets. You’ll certainly find crushing riffs, slow-burning and meditative rhythms as well as some drastic shifts in volume and temperament – atmosphere often takes priority over the neck-wrecking bombasts of riffitude. Overall, fans of the genre should find an old friend in Reverie, but not without a few head turning curiosities along the way.
There’s often a serpentine kind of glide to these tracks. It’s very easy and smooth, but there’s something deceptive about how the rhythms, transitions, vocals, and leads lock together. Guitarist/vocalist James Marshall’s distinctive vocals float nicely over the group’s fuzzy hypnotic riffing and wafts of apparitionlike leads. It’s a nice change of pace from the measured deliveries often found in the genre. His voice takes on shades of Brent Hinds and Mike Scheidt, lending a warm character to Reverie’s seven tracks. The guitar leads often function in a similar way, smoothing out burly riffing or connecting with well-timed, ear-piquing solos. There’s certainly an effort to lend a very atmospheric bend to Reverie. Tracks like desert rock number “Trace the Omen,” and the stoner prog of “Manifest” push mellower moods to the forefront, incorporating some Eastern influences and droney vibes that lend an almost Om-like flavor. The bass (Luke Baker) and drums (Thomas Colley) operate on a similar celestial plane, hitting stride with some instantaneously head-nodding grooves while guitarists Marshall and Shadi Omar Al-Khansa are left to expand on the scope of these rhythms with wide, excavating leads and expressive, freewheeling solos. It creates a pleasant, adventurous tone that’s both forward-thinking and familiar. The production nicely rounds out their sound, too. The guitars and bass are gargantuan or diminutive as they need to be, drums are crisp and sturdy, and the leads and vocals play their role without overpowering the mix.
There’s little doubt that these dudes have been taking notes from Mastodon and Tool’s spacy material, but their execution is unequivocally in the realm of bands like Monolord or Bongripper. There’s a sophistication here that’s not frequently championed within the genre. Though Forming the Void operate in this specific “sphere” and abide by many genre conventions, there are some nice surprises to be had. The lush melodic choruses in “Ancient Satellite” ought to throw you for a loop, but the subsequent returns to the beefy riffage feel so ordinary by comparison. In a similar contrast, “Electric Hive” adds a welcome energetic spark and tempo giddyup to the album, but it falls victim to the track’s straightforward structure, becoming unfortunately long as these riffs get worked over. It’s the album’s shortest track, but definitely feels the longest. On the other hand, closer “The Ending Cometh” is deceivingly efficient, condensing an epic stoner/doom number to a sub five-minute mark. When these dudes hit the mark, they really nail it.
Part of me wishes they left some of the “standard” heavy moments behind, because what surrounds them are some tremendously beautiful and wondrous passages of psych/doom, an approach more in line with adjacent acts like Elder and Elephant Tree. Alternatively, maybe it’s that some of these more traditionally heavy moments could simply use a bit more juice or variety. Like, sometimes they’re just too standard and familiar for those of us who’ve been around the block a few times. These blemishes certainly don’t spoil the record, and they shouldn’t dissuade the discerning doom connoiseur for kicking the tires on Reverie. If you’re looking for something to throw on and get lost in, you need this on your radar.
Reverie is available May 8 via Ripple Music and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.