VOID features guitarist Matt Jarman, who played with Dødheimsgard at their London show in December 2020, that OMM reviewed here. Now, if you’re going to be a live stand-in guitarist for that band, you’ve certainly got to possess an ear for detail, so I was curious about the VOID project that he shares with five other similar obsessives, and it turns out that their new release The Hollow Man, out soon on Duplicate Records, is quite something – based around T.S. Elliot’s grim, theologically apocalyptic poem The Hollow Men and the film Apocalypse Now, and filled as it is with so many musical grains of thought and detail, and presented at such a pace, that, well…..let’s just say we’re not exactly in AOR territory, mate. So, whether or not you find this kind of music as relaxing as I do depends very much on how your brain is wired, I guess. But isn’t music supposed to be easy to like, you ask? Something that your inner cave-dweller / lizard brain can relate to? Well, yes, Fractal Possession is complex, but still a pretty straightforward listen, if you think about it. But even by the standards of the genre this one is fairly busy stuff…certainly texturally… in fact it makes some of the stuff from this niche sound about as densely orchestrated as Beat on the Brat-era Ramones. Therefore, is The Hollow Man going to be a case of overworked and under-rewarding, or have they pulled it off? I think they have, you know. We chat with Matt ( guitars ) and Gerardo ( bass) to find out just how the hell they did it…
Hi Matt, congratulations on releasing The Hollow Man. Who’s in Void, how long have you been going, and how do you manage so many people in the band, without it all ending up in a big fist-fight?
Matt: Hi Scott. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for taking an interest in Void and “The Hollow Man”.
Short answer to this question: I don’t. We are a rag tag band of freaks and weirdos, doctors, outcasts & nerds. A volatile mix. intellectual idiocy tempered by illiterate genius … Arguments cannot and have not been avoided. It’s a miracle we ever got the album released. A miracle called Duplicate Records, I should add.
Who are we? I’ll get in trouble if I try and answer this. Well, in for a penny… The band was formed in 1999 by myself and Kvohst, who left in 2003 I believe. The band reformed in 2008 with a new lineup of which only Joe and I remain. The current insidious six are:
Matt Jarman (The Romantic): Founder member, guitarist, occasional vocalist too. Too many neurotransmitters in the blood. No patience. Short temper. Decisions based on instinct. Occasional bursts of hyper-productivity. Alcoholic nerd, married with two kids. Void member since 1999.
Joe Burwood (The Master): Drummer but also contributes guitar parts. Most talented member for technical ability. Hot-headed at times. Calm conversationalist at others. Sound Engineer who loves the night life and chases the late drink. Void member since 2008.
Levi LeBlanc (The Philosopher): Vocalist. Always smiling, but not to be messed with. Speaks in his own poetic language. A vampire hiding in plain sight. Leader of a steel pan band. Void member since 2011.
Gerardo Serra (The Dean): Bassist. History lecturer. Over thinker/procrastinator and conceptual lead. Void member since 2016.
Elliott Parkin (The Soldier): Guitarist. The nice guy of the band. Most reliable/dependable. You need one of these to keep the others from killing each other. Works planning local authority construction. Void member since 2018.
Laura Katrin Brunier (The Wildcard): Vocalist. The fan who joined the band. Doctor of genetics. Sufferer of all possible disorders. Bears the weight of the world with ease. Void member since 2019.
So…you’ve written a modern avant-garde black metal opera based around one of the most depressing, cold and empty poems ever put to paper, right? Yet somehow you’ve filled that void with as much life and energy and detail ( and hope?) as can possibly be fit into the void…I don’t have all the lyrics to work out how you’ve done it, but how are you going to explain the artistic intent of The Hollow Man, to a listener?
Matt: Thank you very much for these comments. It warms my heart to read them… but wait? Warms my heart? Doesn’t sound very metal. And therein no doubt lies the root of your question. “The Hollow Men” does indeed paint a very bleak picture, that isn’t very much like what “The Hollow Man” as a whole represents, however I should point out that it is only the 1st full track that closely follows the poem. The rest of the album follows a story of our own design, the dreamscape tale of our fictional protagonist, an ordinary London loser who reads the poem and then suffers a psychotic break. He experiences the sensation of dying and all the loss and regret that comes with it and journeys to a realm of death, then undergoes a horrific resurrection and finally is returned to the ‘real world’, only to find too many similarities to the source material, present in everyday life. This journey is perhaps more akin to Dante’s journey in Inferno, itself a major influence on “The Hollow Men”, or to “Apocalypse Now”, the film that quotes the poem and is itself a reworking of “Hearts of Darkness”, another of the major influences on Eliot’s poem. We are in turn referencing all these influences in our work. “The Hollow Men’ is apparently one of the most quoted poems of all time, so we decided to quote not only the poem but also other works that have followed this path before us e.g. Doctor Who & EMF.
A major coincidence that helped structure this work is that during the writing of the album I was commissioned in my day job to write and voice the audio description for the final cut of Apocalypse Now, released in cinemas to mark the film’s 40th anniversary. (It was also the 40th anniversary of my birth, but that wasn’t coincidence, I planned that.)
I always try to approach audio description (a service that allows the visually impaired to enjoy films through the application of voiceover and descriptive writing) as a process of converting films into audio books, so it was a small step for us to apply the same technique to our album. Frankly, it’s bizarre that we were already writing an album influenced by the same poem as the film I was commissioned to work on, but accepting that, it was completely logical to marry the two together stylistically. The spoken word intro of the album is very similar to what I wrote for the opening of Apocalypse Now’s audio description, albeit transferred into an urban London setting instead of the Vietnamese jungle and a Saigon hotel room.
I’m not sure where you got the idea of hope from Scott, but I’m glad its somewhere in there to be found.
Gerardo: I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to explain the album’s artistic intent in any coherent or concise way. I was keen to pay tribute to my personal literary pantheon: T.S. Eliot, obviously, but also Philip K. Dick (whose life and work inspired the lyrics for ‘II A Mental Break – Pink Beam of Light’), and Albert Camus (the lyrics of ‘IV Imminent Demise -The Black Iron Prison’ are loosely based on one of his short stories, about a missionary who goes to preach to a hostile people, and they cut his tongue and fill his mouth with salt). More generally, I’d like people to approach this album as an allegorical tale – or a vivid representation, depending on what one’s looking for – of life and despair in any dystopian city. When I listen to the album, I ‘see’ London, but all alienating non-places resemble each other. Hope is indeed an important narrative thread that runs through the album; but it is invoked only to be suspended, postponed or crushed. Perhaps, with a good degree of pretentiousness, the album can be described as an attempt to translate into music this convoluted dialectics of hope and despair.
Taken literally…’Between the idea and the act….falls the shadow’. How long have you been working on this masterpiece, and were you ever close to giving up? Did you just keep adding more and more? Is there much material on the cutting room floor?
Matt: There were one or two riffs that got removed, especially towards the end of the album, a few detours that were too far removed from the direction the album was heading in, but for the most part it was a fairly swift writing process. At the core of the album are the metal guitar riffs. Nothing particularly progressive or technically complex. Once we had the first and last songs down we pretty much collected all the other riffs we had and arranged them in a way that gave a nice dynamic variation. Black, prog, doom, death, prog, punk, thrash, black, end. Joe and Gerardo came to me with riffs, in ones, twos or threes and I assembled them into the whole picture wherever they best fit. Some parts became main riffs, others transitional pieces. We’ll call it week one. I quickly began to do my thing and add electronic sounds and orchestral textures. The album naturally fell into the Void-mode of all songs transitioning into one. We’ve never not done that in Void so why stop now?
Next, on week two, we started to work with the poem. Gerardo had already quoted it in the lyrics for “The End” and since I was aware of the Marlon Brando reading of the poem we experimented with sampling that over the first song. Another happy coincidence that the poem for the most part, accompanied the music, which had already been written, perfectly. You can hear this early version of the song on our youtube, featuring the entire Marlon Brando recital of “The Hollow Men” from Apocalypse Now’s special features.
So now we had a loose theme / concept and a musical structure for the whole album. What happened next, I can’t quite explain, but after listening through the material I had a lucid dream, subconsciously filling in the gap between the first and last song with a story of this guy: his death, his resurrection. It was all there. I shared it with the others and I’m very happy to say that we all agreed to just run with it. Each song became a chapter and we filled in the lyrics and spoken word to complete the story. It doesn’t sound believable to this day, that the story can have just accidentally fit the music like that. That the poem just accidentally fit the first song… all I can suggest to explain is that after listening to something so many times your subconscious just starts to fill in the blanks. It is my belief that these moments should not be ignored. Don’t fight it. Let the art control you, not the other way around.
The final stage, let’s call it week 4, probably the most fun for me, was the thematic links between songs. With the riffs and lyrics in place, and demo versions of the drums programmed throughout, I began isolating the main musical themes used across the album and interweaving them across all other songs. Wherever possible the added harmonic layers reference one of the main themes. All lead guitars are re-workings of material from another song. This was made possible by the simplicity of the main parts. The opening orchestral melody (Sunlight on a broken column), the black metal arpeggio of “On Reading”, the melodic dominant/tonic riff that opens “Loss & Regret” (The “Honey” riff), The whole tone scale opener of “Pink Beam of Light”… these four riffs appear in almost every song in one form or another. Again, there wasn’t much intellectual thought process here. These decisions were made on instinct or by accident. So the writing process was fairly easy. The album wrote itself.
At this point, (circa 2018??), the line-up of the band received a shake up. Firstly Elliott joined, so there was a period of adaptation with us rearranging the songs for two guitars and Elliott learning his parts to both the new and old material… plenty of gigs, rehearsals etc and then when we just about had it, we shook the lineup again as Laura came into the picture. For a while we ended up with several different versions of the band, according to who knew what and who was available when… it wasn’t easy, but everybody put in a lot of time and thankfully, we figured out how to make it work on the record, (which unlike the demo, seemed to take forever to record. )
Unfortunately everything that happened after that was bit of a nightmare, involving a year long discussion with a label who walked away when we requested amendments to their suicide pact. And yes, we frequently considered just giving up and deleting the album. Again, Einar came to the rescue and along with the contributions of Camille Giraudeau, who took on the impossible task of mixing this nonsense, Greg Chandler’s mastering and the amazing artwork by Metastazis, we got there in the end.
Q4: It’s difficult to ignore the religious element in the poem. How do you feel about that? Has man turned his back on
‘god’…and enduring the shadow…become hollow and ineffective? Maybe there’s something William Blake-like in how you’ve decided to approach it…
Matt: Religions have all the best stories. The timeless classics that are constantly referenced and reworked. Metal music has been largely obsessed with these tales. I myself am not religious, but I am quite spiritual. I don’t think man has turned it’s back on God. Many communities are as religious as they ever were. I think if we are hollow and ineffective it is because we have been living in a nanny state and have found survival almost too easy. We have become greedy and have turned our backs on each other, whether or not we have God in our hearts. This is why Covid has been difficult, There’s so little community support. Thankfully we have one thing that still brings us all together and that’s alcohol. Praise be!
Gerardo: Religions offer a powerful iconography to represent the deepest fears and most secret hopes of mankind, and the tools to talk about things that ordinary language could not tackle. We did not mention Blake while we were developing the concept and the lyrics, but I can see why you thought that, and it’s very flattering that you brought him up. For me, what you call ‘the religious element’ of the album is expressed primarily in its deployment of eschatological themes. When I was writing the lyrics, I was reading the work of an Italian theologian called Sergio Quinzio. Even though he was a Catholic, his work drew heavily on that of Jewish theologians and philosophers who asked themselves, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, how powerful is God? I’m simplifying brutally here but, for Quinzio, the unfolding of human history coincides with the revelation of God’s suffering, and the announcement of his vulnerability. He then concludes that the only meaningful way of being a Christian in today’s world is to interiorise this suffering, and love this God wounded by history (knowing that he is exactly that), while still keeping alive the hope of messianic redemption. Regardless of what I actually think (or feel) about this, the framing of the argument resonated very deeply with me. I hinted at it in one of my favourite verses from the album’s intro: ‘Antennas pierce the hands of an exhausted God, who gives in return alms of acid rain’. I thought that representing a broken ‘social contract’ between man and God (regardless of who turned his back to whom) could be an effective way of setting the scene for the main character’s despair. Other elements in the album could lend themselves to be interpreted in the way you suggested, namely as a tale about man having turned his back to God. But, even when it employs religious language and images, the message and argument of the album remain existential rather than theological: it’s about describing mankind’s desperate quest for meaning and – failing that – the ‘total’ dream of a sudden apocalypse that could dispense with everyone’s suffering at once. However, the outro reveals that not even this hope born out of despair – which can be meaningfully articulated only within a linear or quasi-linear vision of time and history – is given. Instead, here we are, stuck, in an endless loop, like Sisyphus…
Despite everything going on, I’m not hearing anything in the album that doesn’t ‘work’. Is it composed by ear, and experimentation, or does somebody have a bit of musical training? Could I find a copy of Schoenberg’s Fundamentals of Music Composition on your desk?
Matt: Not exactly, but yes, I did study music up to degree level and those lessons are still very much with me and a part of these compositions. I remember, for example, my music teacher Simon Toyne at A level, waxing lyrical about Brahm’s genius in making his violin concerto’s main theme triadic, so that it could be reworked so effectively into the development of the music… there’s a lot of that going on in The Hollow Man, as described above.
The drums sound fantastic, just the right amount of realism…were they recorded separately, as percussion? Rather than as a kit? Seems a great way, if so…
Matt: The drums were performed live by our drummer Joe Burwood and recorded in the traditional way. Joe has a fantastic natural ability to interpret complex rhythms and syncopations into a metal drum context, and then mix it all up with blast beats and double kicks. Of course there are some electronic elements added as textures in places. Some dubstep/trap sounds and two instances of the Amen break. In the demo version of the album these elements were more prominent and we were at one stage promoting the album as having drum and bass elements.After Joe’s interpretation of these sections, those elements are less apparent, and the mixing process blended them yet further into the background, but I am happy to be working with such a talented team and accept the compromise, as the most important thing is to keep moving forward.
Who did you get to sing Here we go round the prickly pear? Reminds me of the Lavender’s Blue bit from the Turn of the Screw. Should we be ringing social services?
Matt: Those are my kids Alma and Kaia and the neighbours daughter Audrey. They pop up in a few other places too. Yeah… they are probably scarred for life.
You’re on Duplicate Records….how did that come about? Must be great to be released along with such class acts…
Matt: Duplicate Records are great. Einar is not the greatest communicator but it’s twice now that he has pulled this band out of obscurity and supported us when nobody else would. Go Duplicate! It was Kvohst who suggested the connection, back in 2009 I think.
Was / is there ever a plan to perform this live, in a theatrical way, as an entirety? Because it kind of makes sense as programme music? ( We can sit and clap for ten minutes afterwards, and shake the programmes, like we are at Symphony Hall ).
Matt: Slapping the glossy pages against the spherical wall of your protective bubble. Or you can stand up, and spill your beer under your seat, like I did at Hackney Empire when watching King Crimson. Playing this live is the best bit, of course. When we all shut up and put our heads down and get inside the music for 38mins. We have two different versions: playing along to a click synched to the backing track, that includes all the orchestral and electronic stuff – we’ve done the first half at shows for the past two years… well, you know what I mean, we did it for a year before that world ended.
And also playing it all without backing track, all live, no click… frankly its a hell of a lot more fun. It’s more like playing it with the vibe of the white album, more frantic … well… faster basically hahaha. We just lock in with Joe, rather than locking in with him, locking in with a click. As far as theatrical elements are concerned: videos, tableaus, dioramas, costumes, masks, characters… all things we can detail in your programme Scott, yes… working with other creatives, expanding the team… these are the most fun conversations to have. I hope so Scott. I really do.
Words for your fans or potential fans?
Out today, Feb 15th We have a new Lyric video for
“IV: Imminent Demise – “The Black Iron Prison”
taken from “The Hollow Man”
“The Hollow Man” releases on Feb 26th.
The digital version will be available on the Duplicate Records Bandcamp page, (https://duplicaterecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-hollow-man)
They are taking preorders for the limited red and black vinyl versions, which will follow shortly afterwards. We still don’t know exactly when, there have been a lot of hold ups, but it is at the pressing plant now.
We will also have it on the Void bandcamp (https://ukvoid.bandcamp.com/album/void) and the Void website (http://www.theunsearchablevoid.com), but we are not taking preorders. Everything is cheaper on the website and we get all, instead of some of the money, but people still prefer bandcamp. That’s people.
What else are we up to?
One half of the band (Joe, Levi & Elliott) also perform as Cythraul, and people into death metal with black and hardcore influences should delve into their world, as they work on their next release. (https://www.facebook.com/cythrauluk/). Joe is also the drummer of crust pioneers Antisect (https://www.facebook.com/Antisect-100288986727576 ), while Elliott is part of an online musical project called SQN (think Metallica, Mastodon and Paradise Lost).
Gerardo is working on the next release of his jazz hip-hop project Udon Valis Collective (https://www.facebook.com/udonvalis), Laura is collaborating with Stagnant Waters and cosmic brutal death project Unbinarize while finishing up the new Cyclocosmia album (https://www.facebook.com/cyclocosmiaband ) and I am about to introduce a new project that I have been working on in lockdown with members from DHG, Dreams of the Drowned and Liturgy of Desecration.