The Artisan Era has been on a decent roll lately, releasing good to great albums left and right for just over a year. Warforged seemed like a bit of an odd duck for the label though. The Chicagoan five-piece of progressive blackened death metal don’t really fit the tech-death-heavy mold The Artisan Era have curated for themselves. It was this fact that initially drew me to I, Voice. What solidified my interest was the Equipoise-rivaling list of heavyweight guest spots.1 One can only imagine the level of anticipation growing within me for what Warforged had in store for their debut record, but does it live up to my own hype?
Warforged claim to craft progressive blackened death metal that should appeal to fans of Portal, Opeth and Lantlôs. Personally, I would add Artificial Brain, Alkaloid and Gorguts to that list. The sound concocted here is a creepy, sprawling, stream-of-consciousness kind of blackened death. Haunting shrieks (Adrian Perez) coalesce with dissonant riffs (courtesy of guitarists Max Damske and Jace Kiburz), frenetic drumming (Jason Nitts), eerie keys (Perez again), subterranean bass undercurrents (Alex Damske) and unpredictable song structures to send you running for seventy-three minutes from these forbidden forests into which you have unwittingly wandered.
Before you balk at the mention of seventy-three minutes of proggy Portal-core, you should know that I had no idea this was that long until I checked the runtime specifically for this review. I, Voice is an overlong album to be sure, but it doesn’t drain the listener like seventy-three mintues normally does. The exploratory nature of the songs is partially responsible for that, as it generates so much atmosphere and detailed imagery you’ll easily get lost in it. Opener “We’ve Been Here Before” serves as a quintessential example of this phenomenon, as do “Beneath the Forest Floor” and closer “The Color of My Memory.”
The best part, though, about becoming entranced by this material is realizing how interconnected its constituent parts are. Each song offers evocative moments—the riffing and atmospheric dalliances on “Cellar,” the pained moans possessing “Voice” and the maniacal violence of “Eat Them While They Sleep” are strong examples—yet any one track loses all meaning separated from the whole. This dictates that you either dedicate enough time for the whole adventure or you miss out on crucial pieces of musical context that continually strengthen the enterprise—for example, “Old Friend” doesn’t have any impact alone but as the penultimate track it feels like an unexpected reprieve from the unspeakable evils that have occurred, lulling the audience into a false sense of security.
That being said, other moments in I, Voice aren’t necessary. “Nightfall Came” reuses one particular riff throughout the last fifth of the song, prolonging buildup without a corresponding payoff. Furthermore, while I realize the importance of “Old Friend,” shortening it to three or four minutes maximum would better emphasize the danger of resting, even just to take a single labored breath, in this godless woodland of horrors from which you must run like hell. Lastly, “Willow” is not as well conceived as the other pieces, consisting of many segments that don’t blend together. In other words, Warforged may have gone a little too stream-of-consciousness there, and in doing so ran the risk of pulling their listeners out of the experience prematurely.
All the same, I gotta give mad props to this band. A seventy-three minute debut epic is an ambitious project even when backed by a major label and a metric ass-ton of big-name guests. Luckily, Warforged are onto something menacing with their spooky sound and fluid songwriting style. Perhaps I am calling it early, but I predict that with time and a little trimming this arboraceous monster will become the stuff of legend. Fingers crossed!
Dallas Toler-Wade – Vocals (Narcotic Wasteland, ex. Nile)
Poh Hock – Guitar (Native Construct, Replacire)
Christian Münzner – Guitar (Alkaloid, ex. Obscura)
Dan Gargiulo – Guitar (Artificial Brain, Revocation)
Danny Rodriguez – Vocals (Through The Eyes Of The Dead, Roman Ring)
Navene Koperweis – Guitar (Entheos, Fleshwrought)
Eddie Limperis – Vocals (Barren Heir)
Stevie Boiser – Vocals (Tethys, Equipoise)
Kevin Hufnagel- Guitar (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia)
Austin Peters – Guitar (Outrun The Sunlight)
Will Smith – Vocals (Artificial Brain)
Tymon Kruidenier – Guitar (Our Oceans, ex. Exivious, ex. Cynic)
Craig Bruenger – Upright Bass (Ahtme)
Nate Madden – Guitar (Immortal Bird, Roman Ring) ↩