A young act’s debut full-length can be exciting on many levels. You are there at the birth of something, the leaping off point for a career of unknown fortunes. Sometimes you can smell greatness even on the earliest works, and other times humble beginnings offer no hint of the great things to come. The promo material for Toronto’s Gutvoid aren’t shy about promising big things for this upstart death metal outfit. Words like “titanic” and “stellar” are dropped and much hype is created for Durance of Lightless Horizons. And there is some truth in the PR puffery (for once), as what the band delivers is loaded with potential and the promise of big things. The sometimes proggy, sometimes standard blend of death and doom the band dabbles in is interesting and unpredictable. The talent level is high and there’s a constant sense that they are rubbing up against greatness and poised to drop the hammer of magnitude on you as only the best can. But there are trials and tribulations awaiting every young band, and it’s a long way to the top if you want to die n’ roll.
The way opener “Coils of Gas Hewn Filament” quickly wraps its oily, doom-crusted tentacles around you and starts to drag you into the brackish tide is masterful. The eerie keyboards are a nice touch and used sparingly for maximum impact. Brendan Dean’s booming death roars remind of Swallow the Sun‘s Mikko Kotamäki’s and the riffs heave from sludgy, doomy meanderings to Bolt Thrower tank assault mode in a flash. There’s a lot going on over the song’s nearly 10-minute run and much of it is very good. The brew of melodic and discordant guitar lines is dizzying and the ebb and flow works. It runs too long, but the ride is a very good one. Followups like “In Caverns It Lurks” and “Delivered to the Altar Lich” use the same template but with somewhat diminished returns. There are cool, memorable bits and pieces in both tracks, referencing Witherscape and early days Amorphis, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts and there’s a sense of detachment that hits me at certain points. I like what I’m hearing at any given moment, but not necessarily the songs themselves. Both feel too stretched out as well, with a noticeable drag at the end.
It’s not until “Skeletal Glyph” that Gutvoid fully unleash on the listener, dialing up the proggy tendencies only hinted at previously and going all in with an adventurous brain blast that sounds like a cross between Headshrinker and cult death legends Demilich. Uber brutal death croaks soak into frantic, jangled riffs and off-kilter rhythms and the song writhes and flops around like a dying mega-squid. It’s this song more than anything that reveals what Gutvoid are capable of and what the future might hold for them. It’s both impressive and frustrating, as the bulk of Durance feels restrained and overly safe by comparison. Mammoth 15-minute closer “Wandering Dungeon” encapsulates all the potential and pitfalls in the Gutvoid experience. There are many interesting moments – a cutting riff here, a slick time change there. Things leap around and keep you guessing, but there’s a tendency to settle into droning riffs patterns and the last 3-4 minutes are essentially just this kind of fluff. It’s not a great song but the good parts are strong enough to keep you listening anyway. At 54 minutes Durance feels overlong and bloat affects most of the songs. Slice 10 minutes off this beast and you have a very different experience.
Gutvoid are clearly a talented bunch. Daniel Bonofiglio and Brendan Dean are very skilled riff writers and good at crafting dark, doomy atmospherics with discordant yet vaguely melodic playing. They create hellish and eerie vibes all over this thing and can conjure dark feelings with the best of them. Dean is a top-notch death vocalist too, going from level to level of Hell and approaching the Earth’s core at times. Justin Boehm’s bass is very present and a factor in the band’s sound, adding a beefy anchor and a darker edge. There’s not much to knock them on beyond the art of restraint and songcraft itself. They try to inject too much mass into each composition, dragging and stretching things out too far and filling in the gaps with droning, overly repetitive ideas. Luckily, this is a correctable condition (if your name isn’t Metallica).
Durance of Lightless Horizons teases with a cosmic fuck-ton of promise but never fully delivers. Gutvoid are a band still testing their legs and finding their stride and with some time and restraint, they’re capable of dropping a world eater on us. Consider Durance a downpayment on that promise. It’s not perfect and it has unsightly warts, but the writing is on the wall and it’s an entertaining read, warts and all.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Blood Harvest
Websites: gutvoid.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/gutvoidofficial
Releases Worldwide: September 23rd, 2022