The little I know about Albuquerque, New Mexico comes from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. The last thing I’d expect to come to this dry and rift ridden desert landscape is frosty Scandinavian inspired melodic black metal. But, Void Ritual don’t play by the rules, like a unicorn entering a two-horned race. Daniel Jackson, the sole member of the band, has fired Void Ritual to the pinnacle of the Albuquerquean black metal scene, partly because he’s its only member, but also because Void Ritual aren’t that bad at all. Heretical Wisdom is Void Ritual’s debut full-length: let’s commit heresy.
Instantly whiffs of our melodic forefathers drift over the Atlantic Ocean in inconsistent patches. Ulver, Dissection, and Taake are equally apparent at times, given a clean and modern sheen that contemporary proponents of the scene such as Winterfylleth have succeeded in achieving. Opener “The Flood” is typical in its sound as sweet guitar melodies uncoil beneath overbearingly loud plastic drums. It follows a conventional format too, moving between three similar riff-patterns that shimmy into simple licks and semi-expressive flourishes. The song, ebbing and flowing like a dog’s water bowl knocked by a foot, ends abruptly without really uncoiling and releasing the potential that ‘s somewhat hidden from sight.
Much of the album follows this format and four of five songs seem to mesh into each other without making that much of an impact at all. “Breathing Ice” contains sharper ice-blasts that melt into lighter riff patterns. There’s a folk-metal circular swagger to the riffs and a less frenetic and overbearing drum tone that suits the song well but, like “The Flood,” it sounds too safe. “Heretical Wisdom” and “The Frozen Altar” blend into each other with minor variation, too. The riffs are similar — decently strung out — but not as potent as the riffs during the opening songs, and the songs fade into the desert air with little more than a whimper. Despite being saved by its atmospheric whirlwind of an ending, “Maelstrom” enters into existence like a calm breeze barely noticed by this listener.
Of the eight tracks, there are a few standouts. “A Mockery of Flesh & Bone” has a rich and full-bodied opening, packed with epic melodic flavorr and reminiscent of the flexible freedom found on Taake’s Bjoergyn. It’s a melodic riff extravaganza as strands of starry tremolos shoot about, rumbling mid-ranged riffs cruise beneath, and licks and expressive links embellish the song like diamonds on the shaft of a battle axe. It’s all supported by the strength of the deep black-metal growls that Jackson utilizes throughout. Closer “Nachzehrer” immediately sounds different as a darker atmosphere emerges. Malevolently deep vocals, as if reciting a tome found in the tomb of a despotic chemical necromancer, merge with a sound somewhat like a less chaotic Deathspell Omega absorbed by Dark Fortress. It’s a successful concoction that succeeds, in the context of the album, because it is different to the uniform safety of the majority.
As mentioned in the first paragraph, Heretical Wisdom is very clean sounding, maybe too clean. I celebrated Wormwood’s crisp production with Ghostlands because it suited their twinkly folk-tinged frostiness. However, considering the dense and misty sound of Havukruunu’s Kelle Surut Soi made me wish that Void Ritual had a smothering, stormy, heavier sound with the drums like the footfall of giants rather than the tapering feet of a flamingo, with the bass like the chest thump of a grizzled cyclops rather than the prance of a pony, and with the guitars carrying the force of a lava flow rather than a dog’s water bowl. Heretical Wisdom is not a bad album by any means, and I will take some of the songs and listen to them again, but we are all so overstimulated with music that harsh decisions have to be made.