It’s been two years since Swiss melodic thrash quintet Voice of Ruin dropped their second full-length, Purge and Purify. That sophomore record came after several line-up changes from their… tantalizingly-titled debut, Morning Wood. Purge and Purify was an album that “could be better, but… could be a lot worse,” according to Dr. Wvrm, who suggested that Voice of Ruin’s raison d’être wasn’t to “write a masterpiece in five acts; they’re here to beat chests and drop bodies.” Having stabilized their line-up, these melothrashers are back with third outing Acheron. Can they prove Dr. Wvrm wrong by eviscerating chests and annihilating bodies with an absolute masterpiece?
I’d love to keep you all in suspense until the final line of this review but (a) it’s early and my travel mug of coffee has already been drained and (b) the majority of you cheeky buggers have already skipped ahead, and the brightest among you will have correctly calculated that a 3.0/5.0 does not a masterpiece make. Voice of Ruin know what they like to do and are continuing to do it. And “that” is melodic death-tinged thrash. Where Purge and Purify felt like out and out Lamb of God worship—and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that—Acheron sees Voice of Ruin expanding their sound a bit more. They have significantly upped the “melodic” quota in their sound, delivering some sweet leads and headbangable, almost In Flames’ worthy choruses like on “Hypochondriac” and “Suffer – Recover.” There is something of One Kill Wonder-era The Haunted there too, in the riffage to an extent but more in the Marco Aro-esque half-hardcore shout, half-growl of the vocals.
The utter lack of variety in Randy Schaller’s vocal delivery on Purge and Purify was hard to overlook but on Acheron he’s clearly striving to address this, introducing both a rougher edge to his barks and a tortured edge on the howls. He also makes more use—though not necessarily to good effect—of breathy, whispered, or croaked sections, and some kind of deeply annoying, gurgling distortion early on in “Mass Grave.” Presumably Schaller also bears at least some responsibility for the lyrical themes on Acheron, which tackle “both the darkest episodes of history and an imaginary future, ravaged by disease and human madness.” I’m not sure whether the plague addressed in “Mass Grave,” for example, is historical or fictional but Voice of Ruin treat their subject matter with image-conjuring passages such as “Headaches, chills and fever, black spots all over the body, suffering, vomiting, internal bleeding, repulsive smell.” It’s not Shakespeare, is it?
Look, at the end of the day, there isn’t really a lot wrong with Acheron, and actually a fair bit to like. The guitarists Nicolas Haerri and Darryl Ducret deliver tight, melodeath-tinged thrash riffs, effectively blending Sylosis and Lamb of God. The harsh vocals are barked or howled with feeling. The drums roil and pound. “One Way Overdose”—a not particularly delicate or nuanced take on a struggle with addiction—even has an unexpected moment of atmospheric, largely instrumental respite buried in its latter stages. But, for me at least, Voice of Ruin somehow failed to land a solid punch. The riffs are enjoyable but not particularly memorable, despite some nice work in places such as on “Dark Water” and “Holy Venom.” The vocals are roared with feeling and more varied than before but fail to ever make a single hair stand on end. The drums batter away but, despite moments like a nice staccato section of “Dark Water,” rarely leave a dent. The production is almost offensively clean, sounding clinical in places where I would have welcomed something both rougher and warmer. As with Purge and Purify, Schaller’s vocals, and now Dario Biner’s drums too, are high in the mix, while Erwin Bertschi’s bass often seems to go walkabout.
Dr. Wvrm suggested that if Voice of Ruin could sort out some of their issues, he’d “be back for Melodic Thrash 201.”1 As he sidled listlessly towards Acheron, I up and elbowed him out the way. Do I regret it? Not really. A masterpiece Acheron certainly is not, but it’s enjoyable for what it is. Voice of Ruin continue to lay about them with abandon, serving up solid thrash riffs with a healthy dose of melodic death. The added variety and nuance compared to what we saw on Purge and Purify is also welcome. Does it still have issues? Undoubtedly. Are these terminal? Certainly not.