STEVE VON TILL - A DEEP VOICELESS WILDERNESS
THE NEUROSIS MAN VENTURES FURTHER INTO THE WILD WITH A STAB AT INSTRUMENTAL ELECTRONICA.
Steve Von Till has trudged a long way. Best known for his guitar, vocals and song-writing in the hugely influential pre-post-metal colossus and ambient noise experimentalists Neurosis, having joined them just as they started evolving out from their formative rudimentary cross-over hardcore crust. While Neurosis began latterly incorporating tribal and arcane influences into their cinematic apocalypse, Von Till has taken bucolic meditation and nature worship to greater lengths still with stripped down, sparse, introspective dark-folk. His solo debut As The Crow Flies (2000) had all the portentous gravity of Neurosis but none of the cataclysmic seismic noise. Instead his own vision of the end of the world is one of simplistic reflection and naked existentialism. Von Till’s distinctive gravelly rasp croons sparingly over repetitive plucked acoustic meditations and basic cello with tales of annihilism and finality. Von Till subsequently embellished this core sound with dark-country Americana and spartan blues and his latter albums A Grave is a Grim Horse (2008) and A Life Unto Itself (2015) sound like Johnny Cash playing on a haunted porch as Earth explodes in slow-motion. Where Neurosis offer tectonic wrath, however, Von Till simply whispers. Like Neurosis, Von Till’s aesthetic heavily encompasses the overwhelming destructive forces of nature and elemental obliteration. Again, though, Von Till develops this further with themes of tortured asceticism and symbolic wilderness.
A Deep Voiceless Wilderness is essentially the same album as 2020’s No Wilderness Deep Enough but without vocals. And that, prima facie, seems a bit of a let-down, inviting obvious accusations of lockdown re-hashing (a symptom of the pandemic era). No Wilderness Deep Enough had apparently been intended as an instrumental record but ultimately included Von Till’s trademark iron filling croak but here we are now with the work as it was originally designed.
White retaining Von Till’s spiritual sparseness, it is richer, more textured and brightly electronic. Querulous cello, quiet horns, and hazy plaintive synths are now given an enhanced front and centre role rather than backing. Completely bereft of guitar, it creates a rolling, haunting ambience and Called From the Wind is undeniably arresting with its cinematic impact. It is not all morose either with We’ll Always Have the Sea a blissed-out piece of shimmering uplifting electronica, awash with wobbly drone and vintage synth-wave. Elsewhere you can detect faintly latent tension in the meandering The Emptiness Swallows Us All with its austere piano keys or the repetitive strings on The Spiraling Away with its slo-mo tempest feel. At other times this sounds like a chill-out soundtrack and Shelter in Surrender is so horizonal it could be from Reiki session. Long before the album closer Nightshade High Country it has become obvious that this is a meditation rather than a journey. It is not a pilgrimage into the wilderness but life and death within it.
A Deep Voiceless Wilderness is Von Till’s dreamiest vision yet. The foreboding, elemental violence implied in his brittle end times sermons of his earlier work has been replaced by a warmer, pastoral palette. Bereft of vocals and guitar, this is more of a soundtrack than an album with a focussed message and so the listening experience differs accordingly. It is vividly pastoral and in-keeping with the Von Till’s narrative of spiritual reclamation and communion with the natural world even at its harshest. The central question is over the relevance of this album. Essentially it is a work based on mood and the unhurried tempos and dazzling vastness can start to meld together. Without vocals it could do with an alternative to crisp up or contrast the mantric vaporous haze. Occasionally this does happen with tasteful horn embellishments or an infrequent whinnying effect, but once a song starts it rarely develops or changes course. There is a heartening rustic glow at play and some transcendent moments, but it can also lapse into a nameless chillout meditation disc and the world has plenty of those. The thing with mood music is you have to be in the conducive mood and while A Deep Voiceless Wilderness has its place, it isn’t the deep voiced beardy bloke’s most essential work.