Golden Void – Berkana (Thrill Jockey)

Golden Void - Berkana (Thrill Jockey, 2015)Golden Void is one of a handful of bands that came out of nowhere and blew me away with a great, fully realized debut album full of brilliant songwriting that made my year-end top 13 in 2012. They had come up with a pretty unique blend of proto-metal and psychedelic folk, with nods toward Black Sabbath and a bit of Cream’s Jack Bruce and Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker in Isaiah Mitchell’s vocals. Three years later, the band replaces up front rockers on their second album, Berkana, with some twang, somewhat along the lines of Sweden’s Troubled Horse, who was another great band that emerged in 2012 (and I really hope to be able to hear their second album before the end of the year), particularly on “Dervishing” and “Astral Plane.”

I might be imagining it, but the band might have listened a bit to undersung West Coast paisley underground heroes True West and Thin White Rope, along with the more ubiquitious post-punk garage noir of Gun Club. These influences are subtly and seamlessly woven into their music, frankly with results much more satisfying than most anything from the bands I cited. “Astral Plane” starts with a rolling guitar riff that also brings to mind a bit of mid-70s Crazy Horse, with an autumnal vocal melody. It gets even more haunting and transcendent at two minutes with a ghostly, high-register guitar line that floats on top. Then enters a flute, and even a synthesizer, all interacting in the ethereal higher plane on top of the guitars. While this kind of mood has often been achieved by the likes of The Black Heart Procession and Sixteen Horsepower, I don’t think I’ve heard anything that achieves this mind-bending balance of delicacy and heaviness like this track. Yes, it’s that amazing.

Like the first album, the cover art features trees back lit with a golden glow of a sunset or sunrise. With the psych prog leanings of “The Beacon” and “Storm And Feather,” I hear the kind of trippy, heavy forest psych I’d been craving. Sometimes I dream up fusions of genres and styles I feel are under-represented in the world. Bands like Dead Meadow and Fellwoods seemed to have the potential to achieve that kind of mix, but Golden Void had really nailed it. However like their debut, the band’s musical interests are too diverse to stay with a particular sound more than a couple songs. They also feature some heavy riffing on “Burbank’s Dream,” a full-blown guitar freakout in the second half of “The Beacon,” and extended fret workouts throughout much of “I’ve Been Down.” “Silent Season” is one of their most perfectly crafted, melodic songs that surpasses the writing on their first album.

Along with the Christian Mistress album released on the same day, Berkana is another strong contender for album of the year so far.

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