Review & Lyric Video Premiere: Forming the Void, Rift

forming the void rift

[Click play above to stream the premiere of a lyric video for Forming the Void’s ‘Ark Debris.’ Their new album, Rift, is out Aug. 17 on Kozmik Artifactz.]

I’m sorry, but any record that starts with a song called “Extinction Event” is telegraphing its heaviness. And sure enough, Rift is the most weighted offering yet in the relatively brief but prolific tenure of Louisiana four-piece Forming the Void. In terms of tone, atmosphere and rhythm, it brings to bear a heft that feels like an arrival point — the title of the side B opener, sure enough: “Arrival” — following last year’s Relic (review here) and 2016’s Skyward (review here) with an uptick in scope, apparent lyrical narrative and sense of largesse that nothing they’ve yet done has touched. Comprised of seven tracks running a total of a still-LP-friendly 45 minutes delivered via Kozmik Artifactz, Rift is, simply, a new level for the band. Operating as the four-piece of guitarist/vocalist James Marshall, guitarist Shadi Omar Al-Khansa, bassist Luke Baker and drummer Thomas Colley (the latter making his first appearance), they offer their most cohesive and purposeful collection to-date, with landmark hooks in “On We Sail” and the subsequent “Arcane Mystic” and themes that have been present at least since Relic — the cover art of which depicted a hooded mystic traveling through space on an asteroid — the album ultimately takes a linear path.

Following its beginning in “Extinction Event,” that time-to-go narrative launch point leads to a lyrical journey through “On We Sail,” an “Arcane Mystic” met along the way, “Transient” leading to “Arrival,” “Ark Debris” when the vessel in question presumably is broken down and turned into a “Shrine” at the end. The sense of culmination is underscored by the fact that the finale tops 10 minutes long while everything else apart from the 6:53 “Ark Debris” is under six minutes, but by then the point is made in roiling, rolling progressive riffing and Marshall‘s echoing vocals; a spaciousness clearly meant to be taken literally. As in, “it’s about space.” Perhaps most pivotal of all the story being told doesn’t detract from the songwriting in general, and though I’d bet by the time they got around to writing the words to “Transient,” the concept was locked in place, neither that centerpiece nor anything around it pulls away from the well-struck balance between craft and storytelling.

On a sheer execution level, Rift is loaded with intent and poise. At their fastest, Forming the Void are not rushed, and at their slowest, in the back half of “Transient,” say, they remain comfortable in their forward motion. “Extinction Event” introduces a variety of elements in terms of the ultra-dense tones, spacious clean vocals and brash rhythmic swing, and in so doing summarizes a fair bit of what’s to come throughout the album, but as “On We Sail” and “Arcane Mystic” lead into “Transient,” the side A finale marks a significant shift in approach. Or at very least it foreshadows one ahead. With impressive lead work from Al-Khansa, thick low end from Baker and an impressive debut from Colley in shoving them along their path, the early cuts of Rift are more straightforward in structure. The hooks have already been noted, and it’s not as though ambience isn’t a factor, as the intro to “Arcane Mystic” immediately hypnotizes and bolsters the feeling of openness, but that will become much more of a focal point on side B, and true to its name, “Transient” marks that transition. Like “Arcane Mystic” just before, it has a subdued introduction, but it goes further in making loud/quiet tradeoffs between utterly massive plodding and more serene melodic fare.

forming the void

The shifts can be sudden but don’t feel that way because the pace is gradual, and like everything that surrounds, they’re brought to bear with a grace that underscores the progressive mindset of the band as a whole. “Transient” has something of a hook, so ties well to the cuts before, but also tells of the expanses yet to be traversed on “Arrival” and beyond into side B. Sure enough, what would seem to be a conclusion is only the beginning point of something new for Forming the Void as arrival rolls out a memorable riff, echoing vocals and a steady nod of a groove en route to a slow-marching midsection and a pickup in the second half to psychedelic lead work laced over a still-tectonic groove. Shifts in tempo only continue as “Ark Debris” takes hold with a decided Middle Eastern inflection in the introduction. Patient in its unfolding, the intro becomes the bed for the verses over the first several minutes, and it’s not until about 3:10 that heavier guitars kick in over the steady drumbeat. A solo over distortion keeps the vibe of the early going alive as the halfway mark is crossed, and a subtle build happens where fuller tones are first teased and then arrive with a marked fluidity over a consistent drone that’s been there all the while.

They end with feedback there and let “Shrine” — an arrival unto itself — close out, beginning with a stretch of quiet but tense guitar and cymbal washes before the whole lumber takes hold. “Shrine” is resounding in its heavy, soaring in its melody and firm in its purpose, and lands as a significant achievement for Forming the Void on their path of sonic discovery. After thudding out the initial verses, they stop around four minutes into the total 10 and drop to quiet to let keys or effects-laden guitar answer the Mideastern vibe of “Ark Debris” for a moment before resuming the stomp. A bridge of some earlier Elder-style riffing leads to “Shrine”‘s melodic payoff and then a final solo over double-time drums pushes toward the final slowdown, huge in its sound and headphone-worthy in its engrossing rumble.

The end comes when “Shrine” cuts short at 10:13 and fades back in on a cymbal wash for more feedback before they make their way out again, ending the album with a reminder that while this story has finished, there’s much more to say. At least, that’s the hope, considering how much Forming the Void have been able to turn their first two full-lengths into lessons and learned from them in the making of this third one. They’re a band who should be touring, especially now, since it would seem they’ve found and been able to harness the sound and style they were looking for these last several years and the task before them would be to refine it. As to how that will happen or the direction they’ll work in from this point on, I’ve no idea, but everything they’ve done to get to this stage has been willful in its creative growth, and one doesn’t expect that to stop just because they’ve so thoroughly nailed it this time around. But make no mistake, they have nailed it.

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