As always, the time must be right to write reviews. The writing process of such a recension is as much an artistic process as it is for a music album. Well, maybe not quite that elaborate, but you get my drift.
So, at the beginning of the terrible year of the Dark Lord 2022, XCIII‘s1) newest offering Void just did not talk to us. Impossible to wrap our minds around something so avant-garde, it just wouldn’t fit the RMR crew’s Extreme Metal damaged brains of mid-January.
But things have lightened up since. RMR just covered some psych and experimental stuff lately, so now is a good time to tackle such a record. And that the band effectively chose its name after Baudelaire’s 93rd poem ‘A Une Passante’ from Les Fleurs du Mal is yet another cause for intrigue. After all, this author’s litanies pop up here and there all over again. It’s an enigma that – apparently – fascinated many metallists and other eclectic sinners of the musical art.
So, Void here sports the songwriting of one Guillaume Beringer all over it. A lone-wolf sound artist who’s not overly concerned with styles and genres – and we appreciate that. You’ll find weirdly connected soundbites that haphazardly stitch sound samples, guitar licks, and strange female voices together to form some bizarre sonic mass.
But that is exactly what continually brought us back to the turntable for more. An eclectic mix of rock, some metal, prog, drone, and so much pop that made young Beringer here look like a slightly crazed new incarnation of good ol’ Steven Wilson. Yet another artist who will do his thing no matter what. And that is another brownie point. One that many attempt to obtain, but few really do.
Even if, at times, the record comes across as somewhat stuffy and overly cerebral. Taking the Wilson man as a measuring stick again2), I am missing that light playfulness, that knack for smoothly connecting genres and styles. In other words, stitching all them samples together and making them work at the same time coherently ain’t easy. And XCIII clearly have work to do in that department.
And it’s interesting, the first few tracks like iR and Red Lights display exactly those qualities. All elements kinda flow into each other and, by doing so, get you a good idea of where this is all heading. Whereas later down the tracklist, the production doesn’t pick up the slack as well as before.
But not all is lost, of course. Void is still a fascinating piece for music lovers that will embrace musical experimentation and tons of weird soundscapes. And a lot of credit goes to Maélise Vallez for her enigmatic vocals on vast sections of the album. Together with those gazillions of soundbites, samples, licks, and riffs, she provides that stable undercurrent essential to great success. And methinks that Beringer here understands that and doesn’t try to wing it with his own limited range.
XCIII claim to play Avantgarde Post Rock, and I would quite agree. Void indeed often sounds like some kooky mix of Ulver and Porcupine Tree3) combined. The piece happily indulges in any and all ideas that the lone master would like to experiment with. And whilst the first three tracks sound pretty cool in their often slightly menacing and weird beauty, later down the tracklist quite often things sound somewhat similar, even kind of bland. It is not a true case of the repetition bug, mind you. But instead, you’ll find a few cases that lack the ornate and often intricate liveliness of some of the more outstanding tracks.
This turns Void into a good yet also somewhat inconsistent record. And it is that lack of flow and integration that kept our minds constantly wandering, to the point that we almost missed some of the truly outstanding nuggets on this album.
XCIII got promise, though, and I am sure this record will serve them as some sort of stepping stone to improve their wares some more further down the road. Now, if you’ll excuse me, some excellent psych is knocking on RMR’s main gate and we must attend. Until we meet again.