CD Review: Sauron - The Channeling Void
Metal bands often talk of war, but few actually sound like it. Amon Amarth and Bolt Thrower have built careers around war themes, yet sonically they only cover "marching off to battle." The machine gun parts of Metallica's "One" were controlled and clinical, which war is not; shootouts end in red and brown stains. The term "fog of war" describes the confusion of battle – uncertain identities, incomplete visibility, bad communication. Sauron's The Channeling Void is the sound of the fog of war.
Not to be confused with Argentinian, American, or three Polish bands with the same name, this Dutch black metal band would seem an unlikely candidate for such vision. Its full-length debut, Universe of Filth, was savage and single-minded: "Here I am, get the fuck out of the way." Its follow-up, For a Dead Race, was unfocused, though, and seemingly recorded with a boombox.
The progression on The Channeling Void is so great as to seem the work of a different band. Quite simply, Sauron has gone epic. The songs are longer and the sound is bigger; this album is like that kid in high school that came back after the summer having grown half a foot and a mustache. A dark, cinematic intro sets the stage for what's to come – not a glorious assault, but a bloody, protracted fight. The band has slowed down somewhat, and added much variation in tempo. Blastbeats, of course, still reign supreme. But here they're not pummeling so much as hypnotic, almost laidback. Add trudging half-time sections and midrange rasps (think Randy Blythe gone black metal), and you have an album that walks a curiously middle sonic path.
That's not a bad thing; in fact, it increases the record's listenability. Channeling the Void is an album to hear in its entirety. The riffs are melodic, but they're not catchy nor immediate. Often they lie in indefinite tonalities, requiring active listening to catch their nuances. Thus, these songs aren't war anthems; they're sonic depictions of the heat of battle, with guts spilling and dirt flying.
The production is much to credit for this. "Grim" and "cold" are black metal buzzwords, and while the blasphemous lyrics are certainly "grim," the overall sound is actually fairly warm. Ride and splash cymbals resonate freely, while bass lines move in fluid counterpoint to the guitars. The production is hardly polished, though; if anything, it heightens the charred, smoky atmosphere. No wonder Frodo suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.