How do you follow on from a classic album? The oft-forgotten price of success is “expectation”, and it’s this pressure that has likely followed British extreme metal band Voices ever since the release of their modern masterpiece, London. And so, with their latest release, Frightened, have they tried and catch lightning in a bottle for the second time? Or was it time to make a change?
In the case of Voices, the band formed by Ackercocke members after the latter’s 2012 split, it’s about reinterpretation. The dark heart of the bands latest effort is the same one that pumped oily blood through the twisted extremities of London. The way that the band have expressed this core in Frightened, however, has changed in quite dramatic ways.
Opening with the brooding “Unknown”, we are instantly introduced to a far more gothic atmosphere, as eerie clean guitars lay over the chants of a subtly hellish choir before vocalist Peter Benjamin makes himself known with a tortured melodic repose. Though before the listener has a chance to think that Voices have pulled a Paradise Lost and gone full Host, elements of the bands more extreme past leak back into the sound, with familiar angular composition being combined with the dark gothic pop to create a fresh and vital sound; one that retains the soul of past glories without simply repeating it. This combination of danceable gothicisms and the unique progressive black metal styles of Voices past works is a central theme on this release; part Bauhaus and part Burzum if you will – though with arguably a stronger leaning to the former.
Moving on from the statement of purpose that is “Unknown” we reach second tracks “Rabbits Curse”, which is easily the most experimental track on the album. With a heavy focus on chaotic instrumentation and monotonal vocals, the track struggles to draw the listener, especially when compared to the tracks that follow.
“Evaporated” brings us the closest to the sound of previous efforts, but even then it is filtered through a goth rock sound; with progressive metal riffs being played with a tone more at home on a Siouxsie And The Banshees record and features an infectious middle section that sounds like the lovechild of Killing Joke and middle period Katatonia.
Comparisons to goth rock and pop legends continues throughout Frightened. “Dead Feelings” while it starts with chunky distorted riff moves back into the goth-pop vibe with a grim, but catchy, track that The Cure would have loved to have released in their heyday while “Manipulator” has whiffs of a Type O Negative cut that was deemed too progressive for the drab four. The weirdest comparison that we came across, however, are the chants at the end of that same track. Peter Benjamin’s anthemic yells of “I find myself” bring instantly to mind the refrain of 80’s semi-novelty hit “Rock Me Amadeus” by German musician Falco. That isn’t to say that the bands sound has been dumbed down to the level of pop-rock bangers, far from it. The album goes through many twists and turns, even in its catchiest moments and there is an undeniable depth to the songwriting throughout.
London was a dark, oppressive and relentless sonic landscape, perfectly replicating the urban landscape that inspired it. Frightened, however, takes the few moments of respite on the band’s sophomore release and develops them into the album’s focus; the result is an album that feels looser, has more room to breath and has a far larger focus on clean vocals. Despite such changes, however, the quintessential, evocative sorrow of Voices’ sound remains completely intact, as does the band’s progressive approach to songwriting, something which is helped massively by the incredible drumming of David Gray.
Frightened will be a decisive moment in the band’s career, and it is very possible that it will lose the band as many fans as their new expanded sonic palette will attract. It was never possible for the band to release a second London and, with a release that has as much depth and as many surprises to offer as this one, it’s safe to say we’re glad they didn’t.