During the Great N00b Off, I told myself that, should I one day be given unchaperoned access to the promo bin, I absolutely would not choose a band purely on the basis of its name. I would do my research and make an informed decision. So, following my first foray into the promo bin sans Steel Druhm, take a bow John, the Void, a band I chose purely for its name. Having belatedly done my research, III – Adversa turns out to be the second full-length from this Italian five-piece. It follows their debut album, the imaginatively-titled II (2016) and an eponymous, self-released EP (2013). Both previous releases offer up sludgy riffs, howled vocals and fuzzy electronica, and are built around dystopian sci-fi themes. Listening to them back to back, there is a definite sense of growth from the EP to II, with many of the rougher edges and jagged cuts smoothing into a more mature offering. This progression begs the question, have John, the Void managed to keep up their direction of travel with III – Adversa or lost themselves in the expanse?
It’s fair to say that III – Adversa gets off to a slow start. I mean that both literally, as “Shapeshifter” crawls into life, but also metaphorically, as this opener is the weakest song on the record. That’s not to say it’s bad, it isn’t, but it is a slightly dull 6-minute precursor to an otherwise very good album. Continuing from where they left off on II, John, the Void deliver big, post-metal riffage, with doom-tinged edges. Vocalist Marco Zanella is in fantastic form, sounding almost possessed at times. Where these musicians have progressed most, however, is in their sense of melody and use of quiet.
III – Adversa sees John, the Void weaving slow, intensely atmospheric passages in among the walls of sound and harsh, Cult of Luna-style vocals. “Dark City of Error” and “Silent Bearer” are prime examples of this. Each opens gently enough – the former with a drone, the latter with a slow drum beat and melodic guitar—before the big riffs break and Zanella gives throat to his apparently tortured feelings. Each then detours off, winding its way through different movements and moods, with “Silent Bearer,” my pick of the album, even featuring an unexpected but well executed black metal section. The sci-fi themes of II are abandoned by John, the Void here, who favor instead a general sense of bleak despair. This is most obvious in the vocals but also comes through in the stripped-back sound and somber instrumental passages scattered across the 50-minute runtime. Even the guitars have a melancholic edge to them, fleshed out in the band’s use of electronica.
There is more than a little of the slow-moving vastness of recent Cult of Luna and older Isis on show with these Italians. But that is tempered to good effect with some of the harshness of Old Man Gloom and dirtier edges of Yob, circa Clearing the Path to Ascend. The epic “A Permanent Change” closes out III – Adversa, with Enrico Fabris’ drums leading, and indeed underpinning, the track, as he does for a lot of this album. He, together with bassist Andrea Pasianot, give John, the Void a big and full sound, helped by mix, which allows the guitars to deal at times in mellower, subtler tones. My only real criticism of this album lies in a little bit of bloat, with two tracks standing out as out of place. The already mentioned album opener “Shapeshifter” simply isn’t of the same class as the rest of the songwriting on show and “Adversa”—three minutes of electronic feedback and what I will charitably call “ambiance”—must count as one of the most wasted title tracks in recent memory. Remove those two songs and you would have a much tighter, crisper 40-minute album.
Those limited shortcomings apart, John, the Void have delivered a very polished slab of doom-tinged post-metal, which I thoroughly enjoyed, Even the two tracks I have singled out as flawed are really only shortcomings in comparison to the rest of the material on III – Adversa. For a band selected for review purely on the basis of the name, I am pleased to say that John, the Void are—for me—quite a find and definitely a band I’ll be looking out for in future.