Each of the eight tracks on Filaments, the self-released debut full-length from Pittsburgh five-piece Supervoid, is given visual representation in the icons of the album’s cover. Opener “Coat of Luminous” is the fire, the subsequent “Braymerian: War Elephant” — listed just as “War Elephant” on the digipak — is the elephant, “Ride the Snake” is the snake, and so on clockwise around the circular design of the artwork itself. I mention it not just because it’s clever, though it is, but also because it stands as an example of the level of concept with which Supervoid are working on the follow-up to last year’s Endless Planets EP, both tracks from which, “Arcane Groves” and “Wake of the Smoke Jumper,” also appear refined here. Near as I can tell, Filaments doesn’t follow a narrative course — there’s no story to it in the tradition of the concept album (there will be time for that later) — but it’s clear that the band is putting effort into how they represent their material, not just lazily throwing songs together in an order that flows well, though in some atmospheres that works to a record’s benefit, and most importantly of all, that same level of thought is being given to the sound itself and the production of the material. Supervoid effectively blend newer-school metal, from the advent of melodic death metal in At the Gates, The Crown and In Flames on, let’s say, with driving stoner rock musicality, so that the growls of vocalist Brian accompany desert riffing from guitarists Joe and Dave, while bassist John and drummer Greg hold down Kyuss-influenced groove and even help foster a bit of psychedelia on the penultimate “Rodeo Queens of Allegheny County,” pulling back on the pace of songs like “Ride the Snake” and “Ladders” to offer dynamic to match the tradeoffs between clean singing and more extreme vocal styles. And that’s worth immediately noting: That Brian can sing. In his tradeoffs from deathly growls in the verse of “Ride the Snake,” he soars in the chorus, and the technicality of his approach — hitting the notes he’s reaching for — is what makes both sides of his vocal personality work so well.
He’s not the only metal element in what Supervoid do. Though some of their riffs derive from stoner rock, and “Braymerian: War Elephant” has a calmer groove, the guitar tone is never particularly fuzzed out, and when the band locks into forward motion like that of “Coat of Luminous,” the line between heavy rock and metal becomes blurrier. The album also trades tempos back and forth similar to Brian‘s dynamic approach to singing, so that “Braymerian: War Elephant” slows down to contrast the speedy “Coat of Luminous” and the rush of “Ladders” contrasts the slower roll of “Wake of the Smoke Jumper,” however large in its sound that roll might be. That structure, along with breaking the tracklisting into vinyl-style sides even on the CD version, adds to the versatility of the album, and as Brian does a better job following the riff leading to the apex of “Wake of the Smoke Jumper” than most singers do who don’t also belt out vicious growls and screams to change things up, the level of professionalism the band is working with on every level is clear. Filaments is their first full-length, but they know what they’re doing, their sound isn’t an accident, and taken with an open mind, it works really well. The ripe hooks in “Ladders” call to mind Gozu‘s heavier thrust — the vocals are totally clean — and with the hook of “Ride the Snake” before and “Rodeo Queens of Allegheny County” still to come, Supervoid showcase an obvious penchant for memorable songwriting that even their longer cuts like “Arcane Groves” (the longest at 9:25) and closer “The Bear” (no slouch at 8:23) hold to firmly. That was true of Endless Planets as well, since it was two of the same songs, but the context of the LP reinforces a varied delivery and burgeoning aesthetic within their sound. They call it “psychedelic metal,” which is fair since it contains elements of both psychedelia and no shortage of metal, but that hardly sums up the whole of their approach or how crisply they blend the pieces. Riff metal, maybe? The simple fact that it’s a question rather than an answer makes me enjoy Filaments that much more.
And to that end, I’ll say that it’s not going to be for everyone. There are listeners who will immediately write an album or a band off for the inclusion of harsh vocals. Fine. They might find stretches of Filaments to groove on like “Ladders” or pieces of “Arcane Groves” or some of the quieter movement in “The Bear,” which is about as spaced-out as Supervoid get, but otherwise there’s likely too much turnoff in the growling. So it goes. For what it’s worth, I come from a heavy metal background, and though it’s not what I listen to daily, I take no issue with extreme vocalizing if the setting is right — and especially when it’s so well done as Brian‘s is throughout these tracks — and the fact that he so obviously could be singing the whole time and simply chooses not to gives the record character and speaks to a will toward individuality on the part of the band. That comes out maybe most of all on “The Bear,” which showcases a patience in its unfurling in which a lot of Filaments shows little interest, and speaks to an even more varied take to come, hinting at a heaviness and metallic extremity that, in the tradition of Opeth, isn’t necessarily tied to aggression or the kind of lunkheaded faux-masculine chestbeating one encounters in Lamb of God and others of their ilk. That’s not to invalidate an expression of anger through extreme music, just to point out that Supervoid aren’t thoughtless in how they go about it. If anything, the prevailing impression of their debut is the opposite – what comes across most of all is just how considered each of their moves is. A band so self-aware, in the best case, maintains a progressive edge and will toward shifting and exploring different avenues with their sound. Hopefully that plays out as Supervoid continue to develop post-Filaments, and wherever their journey takes them, I’ll be intrigued to hear how the aesthetic morphs over time. Their debut makes a strong argument in favor of modern stoner metal not necessarily tied to the circuitous riffing of Mastodon or to the prog-style pretense that so many bands get lost within.
Supervoid, Filaments (2013)
Tags: Filaments, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Supervoid, Supervoid Filaments, Unsigned bands