Return To The Void is an essential release regarding the complete works of Liverpudlian death metal band Devoid. It’s fair to say that in the late 1980s and early 90s British death metal never got the recognition it fully deserved, in spite of the burgeoning scene which spawned such influential extreme bands as Carcass, Cancer, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower, Paradise Lost et al and to a lesser extent Decomposed, Desecrator and Devoid.
Devoid formed in 1988 and released their one and only album – the excellent Blackened Empire – in 1991, but in spite of seemingly emerging at the right time they failed to make their mark and the band eventually split, with guitarist Carlo Regedas moving on to Carcass and then Blackstar.
On this retrospective compilation we’re treated to 13 tracks, with the first ten cuts featuring a line-up of Regedas (guitar / keyboards), Jim Dawson (guitar), Paul Craig (bass), Stuart Harris (drums) and Louis Fellows on vocals. On the final three tracks, taken from the band’s 1992 Circle Of Hypocrites demo, the vocal duties are handled by Tony Glover.
The first seven tracks make up the Blackened Empire full-length, which in total runs a mere 30 minutes. As old school, bludgeoning death metal goes, it doesn’t get more stuffy or silt-soaked than this. Although American death metal – particularly of the Floridian kind – was very much the order of the day during this period, there was no questioning the organic nature of the British bands who serve up high levels of melancholy and guttural extremity. This is showcased immediately with the pungent riffage of ‘Entangled’, featuring some truly chesty, phlegm-bunged vocals.
For the most part, it’s a stuffy track which introduces the world to Devoid and its unearthly doom-drenched, down-tuned moroseness. The clanking bass, the slow churning riffs punctuated by a solitary and mournful lead, and again those despondent vocal growls – this was pretty much the main ingredients for a majority of UK death metal acts at the time, but looking back it’s a sound never bettered, especially as the band throw in the occasional punk-edged hastiness.
The murkiness continues with the blackened ‘Banished From Humanity’; a sordid thrashed up barrage of fuzzed guitars and well-soiled drums. This is pretty much the theme throughout, the quintet coughing up murky mid-tempo grimness occasionally spiced up with almost groove-based and accessible uptempo chunkiness.
‘Relentless Anguish’ comes oozing out of the speakers with sludgy lo-fi aplomb, built upon that foundation of claustrophobic bass tightness and percussive squelching. For me, the tracks all blur into one unhealthy yet joyous slog of filthy cacophony, the best of these foetid traipses being ‘Live Through My Pain’ – a suicidal trudge into the depths of despair and worming through such disparaging murk is a killer sombre solo. ‘Defiance’ shows the band’s punkier and primitive side; hints of raw speed fused with the usual catchy dregs of dirty riffage.
For me, Blackened Empire remains a largely forgotten cult classic; an opus that could never compete with the glossier American and eventual Swedish grind masters, but in its quintessential British manner, it continues to remain a glorious artefact of such an organic scene.
The next three tracks are from Devoid’s 1990 Human Plague demo, and as one should expect offer up an even more obscure sound which contemporary bands are still trying to imitate. The three tracks – ‘Human Plague’, ‘Doomed’ and ‘Beyond Your Destiny’ – are all spewed up with those usual cavernous and sepulchral nuances, with the best of the trio being the slow chugging menace of ‘Doomed’ which lives up to its moniker as a gloom-laced plodder before its burst into primordial pace.
Meanwhile, the three tracks from the Circle Of Hypocrites demo are of slightly more interest to collectors because of the vocal change. The epic ‘Bond Of Secrets’ runs for almost eight minutes and sees the band offering up a more harsh, yet less weighty vocal style at times whereas the production – as expected – means that the track, in spite of its hammering nature, remains more of a weaker, inferior relative to the earlier dimness. Even so, the track still lumbers with ominous aplomb; the deep, putrid riffs and inner-changing of pace still works, suggesting that Devoid – if they’d persisted – could have easily drifted into the mid-90s as a death metal force.
The band almost hint at that classic American sound at times; more so with ‘Circle Of Hypocrites’, which offers up some nice Gothic orchestration and, dare I say it, traditional metal values and accessibility which many bands of the genre would go on to incorporate many years later as the genre progressed.
Thankfully, the weight in sound and vocal is still there, but Devoid seem more precise, less loose or squalid and have replaced the grime with a cleaner, less clogged style. This is showcased with the galloping ‘Hazed Insight’, which flows nicely but actually exists as a more standard death metal grimace.
These releases are vital at giving fans an insight into a genre or era they may not have previously experienced. Devoid most certainly were not kings of their field, but as in so many instances, Blackened Empire in particular is proof that it’s not always the best bands which get their just desserts. This release is a timely reminder that British death metal was a far greater force than given credit for, and these Scousers were very much part of the climate.