Death is, ironically, an immortal topic for metal musicians. Countless musicians have crafted songs on the matter. It is a fearful mystery, a font of raw emotions, a black abyss in which to get lost. Focusing more on the anger, pain, and most notably depression that grief evokes, Death is Peace is the latest output from vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Jackson under his Void Ritual moniker.
All of this is expressed through some ferocious second-wave black metal. It’s got cleaner production: the sound is much crisper and cleaner than it would have been when that particular sub-genre was at its peak. But all the ferocious blastbeats, tremolo guitars, and frostbitten howls are there. Casual listeners may feel that the vocals are buried a tad too deeply in the mix, sounding more like a howling gale than a voice, but to me this actually adds to the mournful atmosphere of the album. There’s a bleak edge that would otherwise be lacking were the vocals more prominent. It may not be quite the same fearsome burst of brutality as Decimating Titans, released by Jackson under the Mendacium title, but it’s a fine addition to Jackson’s oeuvre. Certainly a more focused display of the Void Ritual sound than predecessor Heretical Wisdom, this sophomore effort shows Jackson to be more confident in his considerable talents. It is to Borknagar, and their friends in bands like Enslaved or Immortal that Void Ritual owes a big debt. But if there’s any justice in the world, Void Ritual will earn just as much critical praise as those three.
What truly elevates Death is Peace is the flashes of melody: neither complex and drawn-out nor added in at random. None of the music is particularly complex. That’s not to say it’s simplistic, just that Jackson is not concerned with overburdening his songs with unnecessary frills. There’s no synth, no random folk instrumentation dropped in, just straight-up black metal with some well-realised melodic passages worked in to round out the mix. For example, the frenetic piano motif that appears towards the middle of “A Sunless Dawn” gives the song a gothic undertone, further enhancing the sense of bleak, windswept doom. Elsewhere, the occasional flashes of pure melody serve to enhance the harsh black metal. The quiet, pensive opening to “Given Unto The Water” affords a greater punch to the song’s key riff when it kicks in. At that point, without any drums, the melody is almost sonorous, like the tolling of a funeral bell. All the better to contrast with the blistering blastbeats when they arrive, and make a heavy song even heavier. The same goes for the quieter moments on “In The Depths”: the pace of the songs rarely slows, but here on this track’s melodic passages, the listener can feel how heavily “gravity and burden” weigh on the narrator.
Well, guess what? Kicking off with the track “Given Unto The Water”, you can stream this whole album.
Anger and pain are perhaps the more obvious emotions worked through on this album, but they are underpinned by the dull, nihilistic gloom that grief and depression can bring. Where a more atmospheric or melodic black metal band like Panopticon or Agalloch might bring that gloom across in the melodies, Jackson expresses it in the lyrics. Lines like “Life spares no one” from “A Sunless Dawn” are given less a voice and more a primal howl with Jackson’s fearsome vocals. But focus on the words themselves. As comment on the sheer inevitability of death, that line is quite a bleak sentiment in its own right, and Jackson’s furious vocals add a raw anger to it. His delivery is the rage against the dying of the light, even though the words he speaks highlight the inherent futility of doing so. Thus, the gloomy fog of grief is given voice, but so too is the anger and pain it can bring.
That nihilism pervades Death is Peace. On “The Howling Darkness”, for example, Jackson even forsakes the idea of hope. The narrator makes “A plea for the wintermoon’s return” – that is, a desperate cry for the light at the end of the tunnel, that spring might come and thaw the icy grip of depression. But, alas, “the darkness prevails.” And yet, there is some hope. A bleak, twisted hope perhaps, but hope nonetheless. The album’s title and artwork highlight the awful reality that to some, death is peace. The artwork itself shows this: lined and drawn as the victim’s face may be, they do look as if they are at peace with dying – as shown by Death leaning over them and seemingly inhaling their soul. But more pertinently, it’s true in real life. At the end of a painful, chronic, or terminal illness, death is the ultimate peace. It might be painful to experience, though perhaps more so for the observer, but it is a form of peace for both the deceased and their loved ones. Darkness might prevail in the life of the songs’ narrators, and the light of the wintermoon shine no more, but there is a bleak kind of hope to be found in that.
Ultimately, what this album represents is the sharp end of grief, the white-hot anger that broils and writhes and lashes out, and yet is tempered by the depressing fact of one’s own inevitable demise. Capturing those emotions in any medium is difficult, but Jackson pulls it off with aplomb, delivering a caustic album that evokes sorrow and despair amongst the bitterest of musical anger.
Death is Peace Track Listing:
01. Given Unto The Water
02. Death is Peace
03. The Howling Darkness
04. A Sunless Dawn
05. In The Depths
06. Loss (Pt.1)
Run Time: 35 minutes
Release Date: August 3, 2018
Record Label: Ipos Music