Black metal is the source of many inexplicable mysteries, both in the best and worst of ways. Usually, it is a fairly easy thing to tell one extreme from the other, talent from incompetence, cream from the crop, etc. And in those few cases where the decision is not an easy one, at least it is usually a decisive one in the end.
Not so Vrolok. With ‘Divine Abortion’, this American outfit (led by Diabolus) rudely thrusts at us its second LP of 2007 and fifth since its 2001 inception. Despite this ample amount of material to consider and six years’ time to do so, passing judgment on Vrolok remains a daunting task. It is undeniable that ‘Void’s faults are numerous, but as the album progresses, one ceases to care about its imperfect performance—at least in the traditional sense. On that note, one might not care much for anything at all, by the time ‘Void’s 50 minutes are through.
From a literal standpoint, ‘Void’ consists of a hob-knob collection of songs, some of dramatic lengths and character, some essentially non-existent (e.g. ‘Advocatus Diaboli’). Fundamentally, they are all black metal, featuring simplistic, overdriven guitars, harsh, often faltering vocals, and an atmosphere as perverse and discomfiting as any Burzum record. Upon that foundation Diabolus fuses elements of ambience, noise/electronics, and ‘black’n’roll’ in the crudest of manners, giving ‘Void’ an unpredictable character that defies evaluation along any single scale.
For on the one hand, the album includes ‘Radiance’—perhaps the most structurally orthodox track on the album—a blistering abomination of mechanical jangling under Diabolus’s possessed wails that shows the group at its focused best. Then, on the other hand, is ‘Divine Abortion’, which lurches along in a grim and oddly catchy manner reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s ‘Living Dead Girl’. The comparison seems immediately unfair, but it is difficult to tell which artist is worse off for it.
If ‘Void’s songs are joined by nothing else, they are ironically all joined in their distinctly incomplete feel. Each song seems to have left some part of their arrangements on mute as they went through final tracking: guitar melodies are often hollow or strangely childish in their repetitiveness, riffs lack substantiating harmonies, and the occasional attempts at ‘clean’ vocals (which are anything but clean) sound anemic and almost impromptu. The only element of the instrumentation with any consistent energy is the percussion (not a drum machine), which alternates between the standard aggressive blasting and remarkably involved patterns that overpower nearly all other parts of the song, and are by far the most involved aspect of the record.
‘Void’s production contributes to this sense of imbalance and unease, as it lacks enough aggressive buzz to overpower the listen and instead seems to force us into considering and critiquing every minute detail that ‘Void’ has to offer, literal and figurative.
And it is this unabashed self-revelation—almost masochistic, in fact—that makes ‘Void’ so wretched and compelling. Perhaps unintentionally, this album pushes the envelope back towards the audience and tests our own limits as much as it tests Diabolus’s own. Whether ‘Void’ represents some seminal revelation or a modernist hack-job is up for debate, and ultimately, while both extremes have their own merits, they likely are giving ‘Void’ a little more credit than is due. But one thing is certain—when music this ‘bad’ begins to sound this ‘good’, something is seriously imbalanced in either the performer or the listener. For my own sake, I hope I never learn the answer.