Curse – ‘Void Above, Abyss below’ Album Review

Although Curse have been active as a band for over 13 years, this is the first time I have encountered one of their releases and I’m glad that I did because ‘Void Above, Abyss below’ is a brutal piece of work that demands attention. A nine track, obnoxious monster of an album, there is nothing particularly subtle about what Curse do, but when you are in need of a fix of pure rock n’ roll, uninterested in the demands of digitally-enhanced perfection and played with abandon by musicians on the edge of sanity then this is where to go. Recorded, according to the band’s website, in a mere 42 days with at least half of the material improvised, the music walks a fine tightrope between sloppy and genius, with huge riffs vying for space with the guttural, sulphur-laden vocals and while it often sounds like the whole thing’s about to fall apart, the band somehow keep it together to deliver a thrilling, edge-of-the-seat experience that often feels live.

Opening with the punishing ‘Desecrating the divine’, the band stand as the missing link between Motorhead and Darkthrone’s latter-day albums, all buzz-saw guitar, hyper-fast drums and reverb-drenched vocals played with a terrifying commitment and intensity. The production is raw indeed, and sometimes rather too bass heavy leading to repeated listens feeling like someone is trying to wedge their thumb in your eyeball, but as the first track rolls over you like a Panzer’s treads and a classy solo fills the bridge section you can see the warped genius of Curse’s brutally stripped-down approach. The title track is no less energetic and it feels almost like Satyricon stripped of their fiercely mechanistic production and recorded in rehearsal. Powerful, blackened and heavy as hell, curse have clearly hit on a winning formulae if this is what they sound like improvising. While the track almost crumbles at the end, the band rescue themselves from disaster and the closing seconds are a breathless race to the finish. ‘The mad shepherd’ is up next and it is a furious assault on the eardrums that sees the drums and guitars fighting it out for supremacy against the increasingly agitated vocals.

Slowing down a touch the band once again recall Satyricon’s militant might with ‘Infernal visions’, and as the harmonised guitars pile up over the impossibly loud bass drum and cymbals it’s near overwhelming and mind bogglingly exciting at the same time. ‘I’m the dead sun’, after such a metallic onslaught, necessarily slows the pace for an exercise in creepy atmospherics complete with doom riff and wailing guitar combining to build an atmosphere of slow decay and urban desolation. With the music allowed space to breathe, you have a moment to realise the soul-crushing power of the band close up before ‘red is the deepest black’ sees the band build up momentum again with a more groove orientated attack than previous tracks suggested and a mass of mind-destroying double-kick drum blasts thundering through your skull which, by this point, should feel like it’s done ten rounds with a steak tenderiser. ‘Painting the devil on the wall’ is a statelier affair, with a droning guitar and funereal drum beat keeping everything moving along at an appropriate pace while folk elements augment the band’s basic black metal attack to great effect. It’s a brave and effective piece of music which works well and sounds amazing and it showcases a band who are capable of great versatility even when creating much of their music off the cuff. ‘Hour of the skull’ is up next and after so grand a track it’s hard not to question whether they can follow it up and in fairness, rather than try to outdo themselves, the band return to more basic fare with a whirling blizzard of rapier-sharp guitar and whip-crack drums which is probably the most successful approach they could have taken. Hinting at Burzum’s iciness, although with a marginally more rounded production, it’s a brutal piece of black metal, as cold as it comes and as fierce as the north wind and it’s all the better for it. Final track ‘Priests of the underworld’ sees the band grind out one final menacing blast of grim, brutally honest metal before leaving you in a state of awe at a band who have quietly delivered a masterpiece.

Curse, some thirteen years into their career, have created a black-hearted, beautiful, razor-sharp gem in ‘Void Above, Abyss Below’. As black as night and filled with a brutal, cleansing honesty it seems that working under the pressure of not having completed material worked very much in the band’s favour and there are plenty of moments when the wave of sound and the electric current of witnessing ideas born exactly of the moment that you are listening to becomes almost too much. The energy and ideas flow out of the record like static and the overwhelming impression is that the record was created entirely without an agenda and exists solely as a piece of art for the creator’s pleasure. This is a must-have release for fans of intelligent, black hearted music created by passionate and professional musicians at the peak of their powers. Highly recommended isn’t strong enough – this is an astonishing piece of work.

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