OK, let’s talk similarities and differences between Sorxe‘s newest record, Matter & Void, and their 2014 debut, Surrounded by Shadows. As far as similarities go, this is still the same sludging, Isis-loving, post-metal group from Phoenix, Arizona. Matter & Void still has lengthy numbers, effects and feedback, and Tanner Crace’s Aaron Turner-esque yells and screams (this time, with drummer Shane Ocell in support). It still has headbangeable pieces like Surrounded by Shadows‘ “Steamroller” and “Her Majesty,” as well as calming sludgers like “Smoke Signals.” But, the two biggest differences between Surrounded by Shadows and Matter & Void are the ones our beloved Brother Grymm had the biggest issues with—bass presence and song length. Justifiable complaints considering the band have two bass players and a nine-track sludge debut that carries on for almost an hour. But the band appears to have nipped these in the bud. Matter & Void is bassy, beefy, and its six tracks clock in at a mere thirty-five minutes. Not to mention, Sorxe has a label this time around. Time to find out what Matters and what’s Void.
Matter & Void is organized into three classes of songs: heavy sludgers, calming swampers, and lengthy doomers. The back-to-back opening pieces (“Hypnotizer” and “Distraction Party”) fit in the first class. Like Surrounded by Shadows‘ “Steamroller,” “Hypnotizer” comes crashing out of the gates, turning asphalt highways into quagmires. Though it’s simple, it brings plenty of energy and showcases the band’s improved sound and execution. But “Distraction Party” takes the drive from the opener and capitalizes on it. Ocell’s drums get this mud march underway as Crace alternates from screams to haunting cleans. His clean vocals aren’t genre-defying, but they are convincing and match the vibe of the song perfectly. To be honest, Crace’s performance here is the best I’ve ever heard from him. And when the song introduces a catchy Isisy riff to the mix, everything becomes better. With all the changes that are going on in this song, the band also does a fine job of cutting it off before it overstays its welcome.
The five-minute “Never to See” and the two-minute “Eastern Transmission” fit in the next class. While the short, instrumental “Eastern Transmission” acts more like an introduction to closer “The Endless Chasm,” “Never to See” is a full piece that uses distant guitars and bass, chanty vocals, and growing suspense to build a haunting atmosphere. It’s something the band has done before but, again, they minimized its length before it could repeat itself.
The last class is home to the epic “Black Water” and “The Endless Chasm.” Of the two, “Black Water” is the best. It builds slowly, yet hits hard, and its marching pace is ever-exaggerated by Ocell’s drum work. After introducing some Dax Riggs-like haunting vox, the song falls away to begin another ascent. Once it climaxes, Crace’s clean vocals add power to the amped-up version the song’s key riff. Though I enjoy “Black Water” better than the closer, it’s clear—via length and the lead-up from “Eastern Transmission” and the rest of the album—that “The Endless Chasm” is the album’s epic. I get its sludgy direction, I like its bass work, I dig the Isis character, and I enjoy the Monotheist-era Celtic Frost vocal arrangements, but the song is a touch too long. Also, for all the building atmospheres and mood swings that take place, it’s less dynamic than its partner in crime.
Just the same, Matter & Void is a significant step up from Surrounded by Shadows, in almost every way. The vocals are stronger and more diverse, the bass work is better, the production is sharper, and the drums continue to be a key component in the band’s songwriting. But, I do find myself enjoying the first half of the record more than the last. The closer, in particular, just doesn’t live up to the hype as you progress across the album. It’s still a solid song, but a lot is placed on that track and it doesn’t quite deliver. From beginning to end, the album is an expanding balloon and, while the balloon doesn’t pop, it stops growing at “The Endless Chasm.” That said, if you’ve been following these desert doomers, Matter & Void won’t disappoint.