Spectral Voice has always kept a bit of a low profile, but their popularity amongst fans of death metal and death/doom has only increased in the ten years since their formation. For five of those years the group focused on demos and smaller format releases, following a similar release pattern to Blood Incantation (which three of the four Spectral Voice members also play in). Fast forward to 2017 and Eroded Corridors of Unbeing turned quite a few heads, as it took the foundation laid by those earlier releases and pushed them to an incredibly high level. The material often had an entrancing almost hypnotic quality to it, drawing you in with slow and dense instrumentation and building up to tense blasting where it felt like the layers of sound were folding in on you as you listened. Since the release of Eroded Corridors of Unbeing some splits with other bands have come out, and a sophomore album would occasionally be rumored but fail to materialize as recent years found the members far more productive with Blood Incantation. Now the time has finally come with the release of Sparagmos, and it's clear that the longer incubation period has allowed Spectral Voice to refine their ideas to an even sharper level. Sparagmos retains a lot of its predecessor’s approach to songwriting, but the sound has gotten even uglier and dark, making for material that’s tense and spine chilling even at its softest points.
The difference between Spectral Voice and a lot of other death/doom is in the small details. Where others have been focused on brute force and powerful instrumentation no matter the tempo, these guys incorporate a lot of softer moments that still feel just as ominous. Opener “Be Cadaver” is a great example of this, as its first minute lets guitar notes reverberate and build slowly until the drums come in with an immense amount of power. These slow burning build-ups have that same methodical approach that you’d expect from death/doom, but even at the sparsest points the atmosphere is already incredibly dark and gives off a vibe like you’ve wandered into the woods and encountered something that seems not quite right. Even though the material can spend the bulk of an eleven- or thirteen-minute track moving along at this slow pace, the way the layers build and add in twisted melodies or other elements makes them feel shorter than they are as the songwriting keeps you engaged from beginning to end. When Spectral Voice reaches their peak on these tracks, things explode into cavernous and chaotic death metal that’s just as violent as anyone else in the genre, and because these peaks don’t occur regularly, they really grab your attention. Like its predecessor, each song on Sparagmos can be taken individually and has moments that stand out upon repeat listens, but it flows seamlessly as one cohesive entity. You’ll notice this pretty quickly, as “Be Cadaver” concludes with an almost funeral doom tempo and haunting melody that gives off Mournful Congregation vibes, but it ends with crashing drums that leads directly into “Red Feasts Condensed Into One”. Not a moment feels wasted, and even when the material adopts a droning approach where different percussion is utilized to create an incredibly creepy soundscape nothing comes across as overstretched or unnecessary. Whether you’re drawn in by the gritty tonality and tense atmosphere that makes it feel like there’s something mysterious and unknown lurking around the corner as you listen, or just are here for the muscular riffs and bludgeoning death metal power, Spectral Voice doesn’t disappoint on either front.
Eli Wendler is the only member of Spectral Voice not in Blood Incantation, but his other band Black Curse delivered some of the most intense out there in 2020 so I’ve often kept an eye out for anything he’s involved in. With Spectral Voice he takes a Chris Reifert approach and handles both drums and vocals at the same time, which seems even more impressive when you consider just how harsh and distorted his screams are. Sparagmos continues to showcase Wendler’s range, as there are all sorts of high-pitched shrieks and lower growls that sometimes sound genuinely inhuman. It’s as though you’ve invoked the wrath of some otherworldly monster, and compared to Eroded Corridors of Unbeing the performance seems to have gotten even more aggressive. “Red Feasts Condensed Into One” easily has one of the craziest performances of the whole album, touching upon some of the most terrifying screams as well as chanting. It’s another element of Spectral Voice’s music that sets them apart, and Sparagmos gives listeners plenty to discover.
Over the past three to four years I’ve kept hoping Spectral Voice would re-emerge with a new album, and while the wait may have taken a bit longer it has definitely been worth it. The band has taken their dense, cavernous foundation and taken it to even darker and terrifying places, achieving tonality and riffs that are as unnerving as they are crushing. It’s the type of album that can captivate you from beginning to end, with the almost forty-five-minute run feeling short, and that really says something about the quality of the writing. It’s still early to call album of the year in this genre, but it’ll take a lot to top what the band has achieved here. Sparagmos is available from Dark Descent Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg