Voluptas - Towards the Great White Nothing
Generally speaking, there is often a certain tendency to remain on a vague level when it comes to achieve something or to express a certain idea. A definite level of mystery that tends to surrounds the concept that is expressed in the/an album. Similar can be pointed to in this case here. The title "Towards the Great White Nothing" indicates something, hints on something, projects something. Something that is and that might be reached at some point and through some means. This would be one reading of it. Another points into the realm of alchemy and towards Nihilum album and therefore to Zinc oxide. Does this then explain or help to unravel the mysteries that are contained in the title of the release? Certainly not, but the aforementioned reference is probably some utterly useless information that you, dear reader, have now put to memory -- you are welcome. Nihilum album, remember it. Anyway, Voluptas' debut album contains only five tracks, which span over a mere length of thirty minutes, but maybe this would be enough to disentangle all that had been laid out in the title of the release.
The aspect of white can be interpreted in various kind of ways. In regard of the music, there is the facet of white noise as part of the noise genre that comes to mind of course. Whether the end of the closing track "Desert Twilight" is exactly that, can (or should?) be left open to debate. Nevertheless, the way the album closes, the utter distortion of the flow of music, the unmistakable disregard for harmonics and flow of music are all together an argument that can be used to point into this direction. Sadly, the band from Czechia is not able to create such an atmosphere over the course of the five tracks that this last and final part of the music would by itself work as a counterpoint to what had been presented prior to this. It somehow feels like a missed opportunity. A strange hurrah towards a end, a disturbing crescendo to break it all down and drown the listener into a world of white noise. This has not so much to do with the contrast of the end, but how it flows towards it. By breaking down the flow in terms of the atmosphere and by avoiding a comparably more daring approach, Voluptas' debut is in the end not always conclusive or convincing. On a slight side-note, one might wonder whether a band like Forgotten Silence has had an impact here. Furthermore, why only 13:36? Is this play on the length intentionally?
... and what about the rest, then?
In its core the music is black metal. This is how the album opens and this is also the style the band feels comfortable with. Raw in essence, cold at heart and unmistakable in expression. What made their debut release slightly different had been cast aside and replaced with a focus on core essences of the aforementioned genre. No more saxophone and no more messing around. Fun times are over and the (black) bleakness has taken over and command. Crystalline Key, the opener of the this output, sets the pace and tone. A hollow scream at the very beginning along with a initial intense blast and then the listener is pushed along. The style is modern, progressive, but not overtly daring. A nod towards Karst, a nod towards Enslaved, but not towards Primordial. Why? There is never this intensity of emotion, there is never this intensity of expression. Also not towards Aenaon. Voluptas likes to keep things at bay, likes to channel it into a different direction.
Their music contains moments of calmness and counterpoints. It is not a "storm" from the beginning to the end and no wall of guitars. The tracks are playful, have a lot of dynamics and well crafted motives. But as most of them are around 4 minutes in length, the complexity and progressiveness is kept at bay, as the Czech simply did not have that much time at their disposal. Interestingly enough the album itself is comparably diverse and by no means limited in terms of expressions. The tracks are generally spot on and appear to play with the expectations of the listener at times. Especially as those breaks and switches in dynamics are of a type that cannot be predicted. Leaving the last track out this discussion for a moment, Of Gnosis and Agony meanders around in a melodic kind of way, while the succeeding Between Terror and Erebus throws barrage after barrage towards the listener. The opener would be mixture of these two. Considering that some time passed between their debut release and this one, it feels that some effort had been put into crafting it. A lot of the facets of the compositions appear balanced out and also the instruments are well performed and arranged. The vocals -- screams, growls -- are a bit muffled at times, but this is not much of nuisance.
The question remains what had been achieved once the white nothing has been reached towards the end of the release. The last track is not something akin to what Satyricon had added to two of their releases; Rebel Extravaganza and Volcano. There a certain level of coherence was found, while in this case the stylistic deviation appears uncalled for and on a too large a scale. It would have been better to get rid of the last track altogether and replace it with something else. Considering the quality and flexibility that can be examined throughout the release, Voluptas should have found no difficulty to come up with some additional tracks and ideas. In this state Towards the Great White Nothing is a bit inconclusive.
Comparing these two releases of the band that have seen the light so far is difficult, because they differ from each other considerably. In style and sound either of them have a consistent and "unique" set of sound or style. Yet, this latest output appears to be more mature and better crafted.