As people who write about metal almost for free (we’re paid in editorial scorn which builds character),1 we’re bound to have blind spots. Any reviewer is more experienced with one subgenre than another, and that experience gives a more focused sense of what’s worth hearing and what’s not so compelling. This is why you’ll often see a weird or almost non-metal record get a good review and decent death metal platter an underwhelming one; something merely decent can sound far better without a wide-ranging experience, as what is the benchmark? That begs the question of why you’d have anyone write outside of their wheelhouse, and the answer is simple: because a review is one opinion and not the final word on a record. And the interesting part of it, as I understand it anyway, is what the writer picks up on in the record rather than the number they assign to it at the bottom.
All of this is to say that Spectral Voice, an American death metal band, makes some interesting death metal worth hearing on their full-length debut Eroded Corridors of Unbeing. To my ears, this stuff reeks of Incantation influence, but the infusion of Asphyx makes it generally slower and more focused on filthy doom with mournful melodies. The usual suspects of Bolt Thrower and Disma rear their heads often as well, and the good atmospheric bits recall the fetid swamps of early Autopsy in a good way. The doom influence is the most important part to my ears, and this aspect of all of the bands mentioned above is the strongest influence on the sound of Spectral Voice.
The deceptively simple “Lurking Gloom (The Spectral Voice)” is a quality death metal instrumental. It begins on some queasy dissonance that brings Ulcerate to mind, and as a transitional device leaves a frail-sounding undistorted guitar line to meander over a frantic blast beat, and it works bizarrely well. From there, Spectral Voice transition into a series of riffs that are chock-full of Incantation-isms, but eventually implements a bizarre and eerie melody that recalls old horror film themes. This is an interesting take on Incantation’s style, and it’s quite compelling. “Visions of Psychic Dismemberment” is by and large a strong showing, merging those hopeless and melancholy Eric Daniels leads of old Asphyx with the trudge of Incantation and the mid-paced pummeling of Disma garnished with Bolt Thrower. It’s a long song (nearly fourteen minutes) but keeps its eye on the ball for its majority. Mixing these bands in this particular way is a worthwhile and interesting project, and it’s here where Spectral Voice achieve what is the best representation of their sound and overall project.
Spectral Voice can achieve atmospheric results with what seems like relative ease, but for some reason, they decide that their music, which itself creates a consistent atmosphere of almost suffocating dread, just doesn’t do the job well enough. So they resort to the usual “atmospheric” trick of making marginally eerie electronic noises and waste all too much time because of it. “Visions of Psychic Dismemberment” contains three minutes straight of this nonsense at the end, and torpedoes what would be an otherwise almost flawless song (see above). Opener “Thresholds Beyond,” an otherwise very good and engaging track, tacks on a minute of the same at the end as well. This greatly hampers the flow of the record and makes listening to the full thing feel like more of a chore than it should. It should be noted that I don’t mind non-metal atmosphere (see: Acherontas), but this is just bland white noise that may be a bit creepy in the right dimly lit room but otherwise is just a distracting nuisance.
I’m stuck with assigning a score to Spectral Voice. When they play death metal, they play it well, and while it can sometimes drag a wee bit (“Terminal Exaltation of Being”) it never gets boring. When they try their hand at noisy atmosphere, they fall flat on their face and jolt me right out of the flow of Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, severely harming the full record experience, which is what we review here. It sounds great, being filthy but never obfuscated, loud but never grating, and bottom-heavy but not to the detriment of the higher frequencies; exactly what this music called for. If you can stomach the needless “atmosphere” detracting from the actual atmosphere, this is high-quality stuff. Nonetheless, much as it pains me, I cannot recommend this as a full record.