Back in 2012 I reviewed a 3-song demo from a new band from Sydney, Australia called Rise of Avernus. Despite the fact that there was only a short EP to judge, I heard a lot of potential and interesting ideas that, with experience could lead to bigger things for the symphonic doom quintet. Fast forward to 2014 and the band has just released it’s debut full length album titled L’appel du vide, which, translated from French means Call of the Void which, as the band states, refers to a primal instinct within ourselves that urges us to make the final leap into despair when confronted with the darkness of finality. A pretty heavy topic for a metal band to be sure! The band has expanded on their Orchestral Progressive Doom sound to incorporate different influences such as jazz and more extreme metal into their core sound. For someone who is unfamiliar with Rise of Avernus, the closest comparison I can give you is to imagine if you combined the symphonic bombast of Epica and the experimental progressive black metal of Ihsahn.
The production on the album is miles above what was heard on their EP. The drums are thunderous, the keyboard sounds are crystalline, and the guitars are crisp and heavy. Vocally, the band contrasts from the guttural death metal vocals of guitarist Ben Vonvollenhoven, and the angelic serene feminine vocals of keyboardist Cat Guirguis. Guirguis’ beautiful voice is matched by her skill behind the keys, her fingers deftly tinkling the ivories and creating the orchestral soundscapes that layer the songs throughout the album.
A triptych Journey begins with the pounding drums of Andrew Craig and a symphonic orchestral aural assault builds with a dramatic urgency. Vonvollenhoven’s death growls mesh perfectly with the music and Guirguis’ sweet tones along with a harmony guitar lead from Vanvollenhoven and co-guitarist Matthew Bell add a melodic sensibility to the ultra-heavy music. A furiously played piano run from Guirguis starts off The Mire, a guitar rhythm heavy track with symphonic bombast has Vonvollenhoven and Cat combining their vocals for a unique contrast. Bassist Daniel Warrington gets his moment to shine with some jazzy bass licks. The swirling musical ending of the song can only be described as a carousel ride to the depths of hades. Guirguis gets to show off her gorgeous vocals and piano playing skill on the melancholy and moody Disenchanted. Vanvollenhoven trades in his death growls for a deep voiced doom metal vocals that are reminiscent of Paradise Lost or Opeth. The title track serves as a instrumental intro to Ethereal Blindness, a grinding, heavy track with piano layered over and a melodic doom harmony vocal from Ben. Craig’s double bass foot work keeping a steady pace while violin strains permeate the heaviness. Vonvollenhoven and Guirguis gothic duet here is spectacular and showered in passionate melody. Embrace the Mayhem begins with an unexpected somber and slow clean guitar melody and Guirguis’ soothing vocal tones and vocal harmonies with Vanvollenhoven. In my estimation this is her finest moment and my favorite track on the album. The addition of a jazz saxophone sprinkled throughout the song only adds to the incredible musicianship and takes the song to another level. An Somnium begins with a somber piano and quickly transforms into a symphonic black metal maelstrom of swirling guitars and machine gun rapid fire drums. Guirguis arrives mid-song with her jazz infused piano and warm vocals to add melodiousness to the cacophony. Violin strains cascade over the albums final piece As Soleness Recedes. Vanvollenhoven shows his vocal versatility here with a melodic delivery similar to Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth combined with his death growls and Guirguis’ soothing tones. I am happy to say that I was correct in my estimation that with their three song EP, Rise of Avernus was only just touching on what they were truly capable of. With L’appel du vide the band has taken a huge leap into the metal big leagues and the best is yet to come!