I have my own taste in Metal music that tends to limit what I might listen to, and one of the big ones is a dislike of vocals that aren’t “clean”. That would arguably prejudice me against two-man band Nevoa‘s début album The Absence of Void because their primary vocal style comes straight from classic Black Metal screams and growls. Tellingly, while writing down my notes leading up to this review, I accidentally copied down the title track as “Absence of Voice.” While not strictly true (this is not technically an instrumental album), The Absence of Void treats the human voice more like an instrument than in most music I’ve heard, including bands that purport to put vocals in the background. So, to kindred spirits out there who aren’t fond of Metal that doesn’t favour clean vocals, you may be surprised.
There are only five tracks on the disc. The shortest is about six minutes, while the end track is almost fifteen. There usually isn’t any sense of progression within a track, although I can see an arc in their arrangement: ‘A Thousand Circles’ feels like a beginning. ‘Alma’ is reflective, ‘Below a Celestial Abyss’, climactic, and ‘The Absence of Void’is final. A few of the tracks do experiment with different tones, moving from heavier rhythms and vocals, to more contemplative notes and plucked guitar. Never fully songs in themselves, these inner variations within a song are compelling enough, though unequal in their reward to the listener.
The first track ‘A Thousand Circles’ cycles through tones in this way. Ramping up with rapidly strumming el guitar, its mood is a minor key version of the crescendo in Nine Inch Nails’ instrumental ‘A Warm Place’, but the visit is brief. The energetic drums along with warmer guitars come in, and while the tune of the el-guitar curls nicely, the drums seem hazy and de-synced. Vocals too make their appearance in this section, the screams barely audible and unintelligible. Half-way in we’re back to more contemplative guitar, vocals just a bit more clear but still secondary. As it ramps up again the vocals vanish, the drum’s rolling thumps and almost-static like snare never drown out the rest but lack anything but the vaguest of support until a minute to closing, where the beats become more distinct. For its sombre notes it has a waterfall of guitar, and feels busy.
A more Gothic tone to the harmony starts off ‘Wind and Branches’. It’s relentless and loping. Again the vocals scream and growl in the background, covered by the track’s figurative wind. The drums make up for their lack of distinction in the last track, complementing the bass line. The most deliberate epic of any of the tracks, it’s ominous, in a good way. Toward the end it feels a lot like the less disciplined ‘A Thousand Circles’, with the haze of trilling guitar and rapid drums threatening the earlier mood, but they don’t defeat it. The energy spent, it ends it whispers.
‘Alma’(meaning soul in the band’s mother tongue) features melodic vocals by guest Cláudia Andrade. Guitar is acoustic but resonant, hugging the distinct lyrics, which keep with a dark forest theme of the disc, lying on a feathery violin note that relents to tympani at the end. Those thirsting for heavier stuff may wonder if their music player skipped ahead to another album here but for me it’s a perfect illustration of yet another Metal band showing a broad range of expression. A stand-out track, both for its differences and its execution.
‘Below a Celestial Abyss’ relies on ambient space sound to bookend more familiar passages. Here the vocals are a lot more prominent, but still never dominating. Mostly indistinct, with whorls of guitar like ‘Wind and Branches’ that are a bit more complex. This eleven minute song pulses slowly, sliding between heavier moments and captivating ambient passages with acoustic guitar. At midpoint the heavy section is a doomed trudging of echoing vocals in both growls and screams. The final passage suggests water with its reverberation, the pointed drums and rapid strumming reappearing briefly before the ambient tones close. Though not fully winning me over, the tug of war between the moods here is interesting to travel through. (This is a re-recording of their earlier single.)
Title track ‘The Absence of Void’ is the longest. Round guitar melody leads, the vocals on the stronger side. Three and a half minutes in it distinguishes itself, feeling like the culmination, at places almost sunny in tone. In this song the hazy drums finally evoke more energy than confusion, shifting into near-thrash a third of the way through the song. The milder midpoint is almost melancholic classic Metal, and for the first time for me the growls feel welcome, almost operatic, alongside a clean backup voice. One’s interpretation of what this might be a culmination of may vary, but it feels like the whole album has built to these final minutes. It’s strangely affecting once you see how the pieces fit together. I was going to say that ‘Wind and Branches’ was my favorite of the heavier tracks here, but my second listening of The Absence of Void changed my mind.
Nevoa could not win me over with their predominant vocal style alone, I guess I’m just too firmly entrenched, but despite this, the emphasis on how the pieces fit together rather than serving the vocals felt right. Often my struggle with such vocals is their effect feels singular, unvaried, but making that voice an instrument alongside the others makes it somehow greater, and easier for me to accept. In parts I felt that the syncing didn’t quite work; I’m not sure if the pair recorded instrumental tracks separately or if it just didn’t come together for me, but sometimes the drums and guitar seemed a bit at odds with each other. Whether it was on purpose it muddled the effect, but when each instrument made more distinct statements it felt more natural. If you take the band’s notes on the thoughts behind the work as a whole, this is a concept album. In that regard it feels wholly successful, everything feeling tied together. Whatever you think of Metal and all its sub-genres, The Absence of Void shows that there are plenty of iterations on a darker theme.
Their album is currently available on their Bandcamp website, if you want to compare notes.