Wednesday 25 November 2020

Voyage in Solitude - Through the Mist with Courage and Sorrow (2020)

Country: Hong Kong
Style: Post-Black Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Sep 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

Voyage in Solitude is a post-black metal project from Hong Kong created by one man, Derrick Lin. He's not just responsible for playing every instrument here, but also for the songwriting, the production, everything it seems except the evocative photo on the cover. I'd joke that he probably kept the kettle boiling, made lunch and switched the lights off at night, but then he did record this album at home.

It's Lin's first studio album under the Voyage in Solitude name, though I see a slew of EPs and singles prior to it. There's such a consistency to the material here that I could easily see this becoming quite a prolific project.

As you might expect for anything featuring post- in front of its genre, it's all about soundscapes and these are dark and lonely ones, windswept and barren and bleak. The project's page on Bandcamp says that Lin aims "to express the loneliness, helplessness, frustration of people in the city I am living in". It depicts those emotions effectively and, while I'm imagining rural weather-beaten soundscapes like the cover art, I rather like the idea of using the blastbeats of black metal as a metaphor for the sheer overwhelming feeling of living in one of the densest populated cities on the planet. This isn't merely about being alone, it's about being alone in a crowd.

The more I thought about that concept, the more I started to see how well this might play when laid over the expressionistic chase scenes in Chungking Express with Christopher Doyle's camera blurring magnificently through the busy marketplace. Presumably that's what Lin wants us to imagine: a zoom in from the city level through the chaos and the bustle all the way to a close up of one single person, at which point the world shuts out and we see how alone they truly are, however many thousands are jostling around them like a giant sized demonstration of Brownian motion.

There are seven tracks on offer here, all of them new, I believe, except for Incoming Transition, which was Lin's contribution to a split release called Sounds of Melancholy last year. Each plays in a similar fashion, with one exception that I'll get to, and that's to conjure up a soundscape from slow, majestic keyboards and rapid-fire blastbeats, with calmer sections to serve as contrasts. Incoming Transition is the longest, at almost ten minutes, but I wouldn't say that it does a particularly different job to Veil of Mist, at under four, other than with its application of depth.

When vocals show up, they're appropriately buried in the mix, as if serving as unheard cries for help. They're mostly black metal shrieks, of course, but there are sections that are spoken and at least one that's an ephemeral, almost disembodied voice. That's in Despair, where the effects on it surely tell a story. I'd be interested in knowing what that story is.

And to that exception, which is the album's closer. In Between does many of the same things as earlier songs, but the tone is completely different. It feels hopeful to me, at least, if not outright happy, with bells to underline that. The keyboards aren't concealing here, hiding someone from the world; they're highlighting like a ray of sunshine beaming down into a crowd to pick out a single person. The vocals here are clean, for the most part, and I couldn't help but hear new wave in this song. It sounds like a Joy Division song to me.

Now, that's a statement in itself! When your song that sounds like Joy Division is the happy one, you know that you have a dark tone indeed to your album. Placing that at the end is telling too. It means that, as deep as this gets into isolation, there's hope and this becomes somehow an uplifting album. I didn't expect that going in, especially given the rumbling bass and patient beat that start out Veil of Mist, but I appreciate it. This is good stuff.

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