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Earth’s Disease

Apathia (2015)
Rating: 8/10

I always find it a tad uncomfortable listening and reviewing black metal albums when the summer months are suddenly upon us! Maybe it’s because a majority of albums within the scene are best soaked up during a frightful blizzard.

But anyway, French black metallers Void Paradigm have just slapped their sophomore opus Earth’s Disease into my lap, and I certainly wouldn’t pass up the opportunity in sticking this one on the stereo.

It’s been three years since 2012’s self-titled debut from a band who call their style of extremity “hypnotic dodecatonic black metal”. Admittedly, the debut from the trio is one which slipped under my radar; after all, the amount of black metal bands emerging over the last decade has been phenomenal and suffocating, although not many stand out from the crowd, but Void Paradigm do boast that certain quality to go against the grain within the genre.

What’s very noticeable about this bunch is the accessibility of the music, because while the outfit are more than happy to scrape the flesh off your face with fast, abrasive textures, they also seem extremely happy to provide dark, yet slower scathing moments of unorthodox percussion and strange rolling guitars of unpredictable fashion. One moment they hint at Voivod and the next reminding me of Norwegian oddballs Tulus with those jarring arrangements. So this is far from being routine black metal.

What is also extremely notable are the vocals of Jonathan Théry, which sit well outside the expected black metal aesthetics. For the most part, they come across as a grating, hoarse puke, but at their most formidable they slip into deathlier grumbles and growls. Such is their passion and torment though, they walk hand in hand with the jerking rhythms and almost progressive shifts of pattern within Alexis Damien’s drum stabs and rattles. However, the most impressive tumult coughed up is the guitar and bass of Julien Payan whose sounds are a joy to behold within a record that boasts plenty of cosmic philosophy as well as anguish and atmosphere.

That’s not to say that Void Paradigm’s sound is a complex maze, but at one moment there is a fabulous punky edge as with segments of ‘Revenge’ and its closing prod, while opener ‘Crushing The Human Skull’ is at once barbaric in its thorny plight as well as slow and grating, especially with that insistent guitar scrape and impressive drum work.

With only one listen I’m reminded that black metal is far from being done; Void Paradigm clearly not interested in the usual, now predictable corpse-painted approach amidst a sea of bad production and dissonant riffage. Instead, we get an element of meatiness, albeit a cold, empty vacuum where the guitars worm in an unhinged and always unnerving fashion. The overall feel is something akin to experiencing a depressive, frosty air but one so black and enticing that by the time you’ve reached the pitch depths of ‘Sick Life Fading’, you’re already resorting to a hypnotic state where semi-industrialised mocking is the order the day.

Here the vocals are a grim, foreboding narration accompanied by a trickling guitar melody and stark, stirring drum tap. Indeed, for me anyway, my black metal needs to be arrogant and foreboding – and those are the two main key elements which make Earth’s Disease so potent and rewarding.

Every track is a surprise; one which is reasonably instant and yet heretical in its structure. ‘Sick Life Fading’ builds to a frothing foray into the rampant and yet without ever being truly fast or harrowingly slow; instead, we find this middle-ground of stabbing, cavorting techniques and some truly unexpected catchy hooks.

The closing 11-minute wonder that is ‘From The Earth To The Skies’ is a prime example of how the band incorporates some unusual concepts that exist way outside of the expected black metal framework; to the point that you find yourself rewinding numerous passages just to make sure that what you heard was so bewildering and yet oddly simple.

In either their most ferocious state or their slowest guise, it would be extremely unfair to label Earth’s Disease as a black metal artefact; that riffage on ‘From The Earth To The Skies’ is a cool, slick slab of thrash menace, while elsewhere we have hints of that derisive, sneering black metal quality, and yet there’s just something more thrown in that gives the record an almost unique feel. Even so, Void Paradigm can still muster up a pure black metal spikiness at times.

Earth’s Disease is very much thinking man’s black metal, which although hinting to the mid-to-late 90s air of experimentalism, remains in its own uncomplicated and yet progressive field.

Neil Arnold

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