Descending Pillars by Void RotRelease date: September 4, 2020
Label: Everlasting Spew (EU) and Sentient Ruin Laboratories (USA)
There are a small number of times a year that a listener who delves into the great milieu of Bandcamp and who eschews algorithms and instead scours the bottomless depths of Spotify, makes a mental note to continue tracking the advancement and activity of a band. One such time occurred for me in late 2018 when I came across Minneapolis, Minnesota based quartet Void Rot. They had just that moment released their debut EP, Consumed by Oblivion. Said release featured only three tracks and barely a quarter an hour of music, but it knocked me sideways.
I love death metal. I love doom. But ‘death doom’ was always a genre I enjoyed, but where I found the sub-genre title fanciful – it was always a death metal band who threw a doom-influenced riff into the mix on the final, invariably longest, track. Or, vice versa, a doom band, who had some gurgling vocals or who may feature the occasional visceral, jagged riff. I had never found many bands who invested in truly warping the two seemingly disparate genres into something new, blurred and delightfully horrific. Enter Void Rot.
How does one create a sense of filth-saturated, frenzied urgency when also dragging all who pass back down into the murky, drawn-out sludge? ‘Celestial Plague’ had you covered (in viscera). How to evoke the short, sharp cuts of a knife attack, while similarly conveying the tortured minute by agonisingly slow minute of a jagged, serrated knife parting still conscious flesh from bone? ‘Consumed by Oblivion’ had that nailed (upon an inverted cross). How to conjure visions of rampant, disgusting, carnal hedonism alongside lofty eon nullifying cosmic lore? ‘Ancient Seed’ proved such a thing could be born (beyond morality and time itself). It was a very, very impressive EP.
Since then, I hadn’t heard too much, aside from chatter about the aforementioned three-track. Then, in May this year, we were treated to a split with Atavisma. Once again, the quartet provided three tracks and again, they had ushered into the world another fifteen minutes worth of material. However, two of the tracks were slightly longer and one was a tight three and a half minutes, showcasing a variation in song length, structure and flexing the muscles of their songwriting abilities. The band were not standing still, they had continued to mutate.
That split was – is – another impressive statement of intent, but no sooner had I listened to it, then did I learn that only a few months later the band would be releasing the debut album we find ourselves with here: Descending Pillars. With the split they had come through with three more songs that built on the promise and ambition showcased on their debut EP. I found myself nervous upon first listen of this full-length. Would it meet the high expectations I had of it, would it just about hit the mark, or might it prove shorter releases were where the band’s strength lay, or might it simply disappoint…?
No. Descending Pillars is an absolute monument. This year is an embarrassment of riches for heavy music, it really is. If anyone even utters the phrase “2020 is a quiet year” or “the music this year has matched the shit year we’ve had” in December, then that is completely and utterly on them. This year has provided some truly incredible records, and death metal in particular is having yet another astonishing twelve months. Void Rot’s Descending Pillars is most certainly among this smorgasbord of delectable, diabolical treats, but it may prove yet to be one of the rarest of the collection. Void Rot do not put a foot wrong on this LP. From the opening seconds of the eponymous ‘Descending Pillars’ to the magisterial deluge and suffocating, pained, pallid outro of ‘Monolith (Descending Pillars Pt. II)’, the quartet fashion a tight record that traverses an unbelievable amount of ground, technicality, bravura and makes a grasp for aural hegemony. In death-doom Void Rot are impeachable, towering above their competition; both their contemporaries and those previously thought to be exemplars of this sub-genre.
‘Descending Pillars’ opens the record, the longest track on the album, a slow fade in hinting at the pitch black innards of the LP. A languid riff slithers in from the ambient gloom at around the minute mark, shortly bolstered by confident drumming and thick guitar extolling chords infused with doom, stretching out and elongating the pacing of the track before we truly get going, before seamlessly moving into a death metal invective. It’s difficult to describe the majority of passages on Void Rot’s debut, because it is easy to fall into descriptors that would then come across as simplistic, or rather, stilted; ‘doom part, then death metal part, then doom riff, then guttural vocals and speedy drumming’. This is not how the band sound.
As I alluded to before, the DNA of these two genres have been spliced together. Like the unconscionable, inexplicable experiment at the beginning of a science fiction horror film when two DNA strands have been merged for ‘scientific interest and study’, but who the ‘dead-as-soon-as-you-saw-them’ technician explains has “absolutely no chance of being viable outside the lab,” and, then… you know the rest. This is Void Rot. They are the creature that has scaled the insurmountable, the exception to the rule. In the slower passages of the album one can still hear the pace and writhing disgust of death metal baked into its doomy, austere, titanic walls of sound; in the raging, faster paced segments, there is a monstrous grandeur and sense of the band having all the time in the world, despite the fact they are lurching themselves forward at superhuman speed at that point.
‘Descending Pillars’ continues its upward, Sisyphean climb to the mirror-inverted bowels of Hell. It is a dazzling track, showcasing an authority and exuding a confidence uncommon on debut records in any genre. This is a band that sounds grounded, but completely on top of their sound, what they’ve written and what they’re trying to do with their output. We are treated to ebbs and flows of pace and flourishes of different adjacent rhythm, meaning that the track always feels focused and purposeful, while all the time being pulled into a morass, engendering that suffocating quality we all desire and delight in from extreme metal, but especially from doom. Void Rot form a tension at the very centre of their being on each of the six full tracks on this album – this tension being the inference they are always just about to let rip, while the more staid and sombre elements of their genetics mean they can never do so, eternally caught in the tug of war between the two opposing genres.
‘Upheaval’ brandishes the knife early, slicing through the lull at the end of the opening track, with a barrage of snaking riffery and an ever menacing rhythm section. The drumming throughout Descending Pillars is stellar and, to my mind, must be the section of the band requiring the most dexterous of mindsets. I can see how vocals, guitars and even bass can become malleable enough, with the sufficient amount of skill, creativity and practice, to navigate the cacophonous skies and yawing fissures of Void Rot’s compositions. But, underpinning it all, are the sublime drums, with a performance that makes me question whether ‘WB’ may be said sci-fi experiment gone native; part human, part octopus, part chameleon… The second track is a short blast of immense suffering and dizzying musicianship, proving, should it ever have been questioned, that Void Rot can coalesce their sonic experiments and unique double-helix not only in epic track lengths but in under four minutes, too.
‘Liminal Forms’ and ‘Delusions of Flesh’ both run at around six minutes and together provide the spine of the album. They are the joint powerhouses of the LP, exhibiting the paradoxical sides to Void Rot’s reflection; the former having rabid vocals and guitars breaching stereo speakers in the fervent blood-soaked writhing as the bass and drums wade in treacle for much of its runtime, whereas the latter features drums and bass pulsating in incensed, animalistic death metal fashion, as the guitars and the vocals in particular wrestle with huge a doom-esque, ever-slowing sludge morass. They are the perfect example of not only the songwriting skill (and future potential) of the band, but also how expertly produced Descending Pillars is. The equilibrium found between the two genres, despite the style of recording both usually enjoy being so at odds, are as if balanced on a knife’s edge. The clinical, cold crisp yet raw sound of death metal is gone. So too is the fuzzy, indistinct perplexing “warmth” and volume of doom. In its place is an autumnal tonality (perfect, then, for the album’s release date). ‘Autumnal’ is the best word I can find for the recording – it is rich, yet full of decay; it is austere yet not frigid; pyrexical, though never boiling over. A symmetry, a stability is always, always found on this record – shot through its very existence from composition to mixing and final master.
‘Inversion’ is five minutes of being brutalised in the best way possible, and for a taste of what to expect from the album it is a fine example, and in the context of the whole LP, is a very obvious choice for the ‘single’ that teased the album. We then have the ominous minute long segue named ‘The Weight of a Thousand Suns’, that provides a short moment of respite before we are subjected to the onslaught of ‘Monolith (Descending Pillars Pt. II)’. A true culmination of all that has gone before, Void Rot amp everything up once more. I can almost picture this unidentifiable creature flexing, limbering up, as this track finally comes burgeoning into twisted, gnarled life. Imagining Suffocation, Disembowelment, Bölzer and Bolt Thrower eating one another alive in an endless self-sustaining, self-engorging circle. This is how one describes the infamy wrought by this final track. Epic, even transcendent, it is a fitting end to this incredible album. Its final minutes begin to fade as the drums blast and echo, conversely the distortion becoming noisier, sweeping all that has come before away, before too receding and ending an album stunning in ambition and execution, and all coalesced into one form, in less than forty minutes.
Descending Pillars is yet another stunning debut to add to the list of jaw-dropping debuts in 2020. Void Rot deserve to be singled out, however, for really honing a sound that I believe has largely been a sub-genre in name only. They have hewn a sound that actually delivers on what the title ‘death doom’ truly implies. Tonally, the band remind me a lot of US-brethren Fórn, despite being quite different propositions. Like Fórn’s sublime debut full-length, Rites of Despair, I believe Descending Pillars will be an album referenced often in the future, with Void Rot held up as a talisman for future (true) death doom hybrids. This is the line in the sand, rendered in blood and under a storm signalling our doom. This is the line, the album by which others in this niche will now be measured.
Who knows what this quartet could do next? I, for one, will be keeping my tab firmly on them.