When Akercocke dissolved in 2012, a few of its members regrouped as Voices, releasing a respectable debut in the form of Voices from the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain, revealing that there was some life left from the ashes of everyone’s favorite hedonistic prog-death merchants. However, absolutely no one was prepared for the relentless headfuck that came out the following year. London blindsided both fans and critics alike, weaving a sordid tale of jealousy, addiction, mental illness, and the seedy underbelly of the city the band calls home, and in doing so, landed themselves on quite a few end-of-year lists1. All eyes are on Voices right now. So how do they follow up such a monumental album like London?
The answer’s simple: they don’t. While some bands would be content with repeating past glories in hopes of riding their infamy out to the sunset, Voices acknowledge that London was a work of art, but would much rather explore territories that, at least on the surface, would seem jarring to their fans, but still remain unflinchingly within their specialized scope. In other words, if you’re expecting crooning and soft acoustic guitars layered over blastbeats, or poetic spoken word passages, you will be disappointed in Frightened. However, if you want to be drawn into a chaotic, personal, and oftentimes emotionally raw listening experience, then Frightened will satisfy you immensely. Within seconds of “Unknown,” you realize that the “dark pop” tag the band themselves have claimed rings true, but instead of aiming for stardom, the marriage of their trademark progressive leanings and Siouxsie and the Banshees-like melodies fit beautifully, especially since two of Voices‘ biggest strengths, David Gray’s impressive drumming and the beautiful crooning and tortured screams of Peter Benjamin, are on full display. They’re just painting with a wider color palette than before.
And like London, Frightened takes the listener through various twists and turns, unearthing new gems on each subsequent replay. “Evaporated” comes the closest to London‘s batshit schizophrenic despondency, but even then it’s colored with Killing Joke riffs and Bauhaus sense of dark drama. “Manipulator” would make Katatonia jealous with both its atonal flourishes and earworm-inducing efficiancy. And the band hasn’t lost its ability to write a reflectively moody and somber ballad, as both “IWSYA” and closer “Footsteps” both prove. In fact, “Footsteps” gives London‘s “Suicide Note” a run for its money as the band’s most heartbreaking ballad, with somber violins, a shimmery, almost dreamlike main riff that The Cure would kill for, and one of Benjamin’s most powerful vocal performances to date during the choruses that gave me some major Type O Negative vibes in the best way possible.
Another welcome change of pace comes in the production. Whereas London suffered a bit from a somewhat squashed mix, Frightened sounds more lively. The guitars and bass now have room to breathe a bit, all while still retaining heft and clarity. Gray’s drums also sound more organic than before. With all that said, Frightened isn’t without some qualms. “Rabbit’s Curse,” even after repeated plays, didn’t grab me, with the vocals hitting a bit too close to Modest Mouse territory for my liking, although mileage may vary there. Also, “Fascinator” feels like it would build up to something remarkable, but instead it builds up and… ends.
But even with these issues, Voices did the unthinkable. Instead of giving us London 2.0, they decided to craft something altogether new, and I couldn’t be happier with the results overall. It shows that Voices aren’t a band that plays it safe, and while this will alienate certain fans, I can see many more checking out Frightened (and hopefully their entire discography). While I was expecting another blackened slab of sheer debauchery and lunacy, I was greeted instead with a powerful album that, while giving more than a few subtle nods to their influences, still remains undeniably Voices. That alone should be commended.