Way way back in the deepest darkest depths of 2012, Oakland, California’s Golden Void released their Self-Titled debut album. It was an album of sophisticated beauty, timeless grace, intricate rhythms, musical finesse and possessed a cutting edge that was both fresh to the scene and warmly and homecoming all at the same time. Golden Void lacked pretence, outlandishness, ego or an agenda of any form other than to create the simple, joyful pleasures of good, wholesome blues rock energy for themselves, their loved ones and anyone else who so cared to pass by and lend an ear. Now attempting to top Golden Void with a follow-up in the shape of Berkana, Golden Void the band had always set themselves a steep challenge to meet. What’s resulted is a record that packs in an abundance of all the same contributing ingredients to the near perfection of the Golden Void sound, set to a recipe that’s more expansive than ever whilst ever so slightly lacking in that punchy breakthrough groove of its predecessor.
Golden Void as a band line-up remains unchanged. Isaiah Mitchell, also of Earthless and for my money one of the greatest guitarists of our generation, still heads the charge with his soul-bearing leads, dazzling solos and a gut-wrenching vocal performance that sits somewhere deeper than Chris Cornell, but on a more fragile plane than the likes of the more up-front stoner-rockisms of Fredrik Nordin (Dozer) or Jason Simon (Dead Meadow). Sitting behind Isaiah are his wife Camilla Saufly-Mitchell on keys, Justin Pinkerton (drums) and Aaron Morgan (bass) who complete the friends-n-family feel of what Golden Void has been all about since its inception.
The likes of promo-track Dervishing carry a casual, happy feel bouncing around that seamless percussion and Isaiah’s jangling guitar which cracks into a delicious solo, every few minutes at least, to quench our thirst for his effortless innovation. Silent Season is a more bass-driven piece by Morgan, neatly punctuated by Camilla’s liquid wash of keys and mesmeric voice backing up her husband Isaiah’s staunch vocal leads and more minimalistic drives of guitar. Meanwhile, The Beacon has a more prog-jazz feel, with vocals reduced back in the mix behind a kaleidoscope of star-bound guitar and heartfelt, dizzying acid rhythms that sit closer to Earthless, The Heads and Hawkwind than perhaps you’d first imagine.
If you’re looking for riffage, you’ll still find it. Opener Burbank’s Dream echoes back to Isaiah’s love of Jimi Hendrix with it’s rich, yet rigid riffs and strong, strident vocals rebounding off Pinkerton’s measured taps and saunters down the drum-walks of jazz and blues. Meanwhile, I’ve Been Down cackles with yet more waves of honey-thick guitar and soaring lyrics, perfect for fans of Trippy Wicked or later-era Soundgarden, before delving deep into Isaiah’s bottomless pocket of fret-ecstasy.
Elsewhere on Berkana you have the gentle prog-psyche of closer Storm And Feather and the hippy trippy sway of Astral Plane which builds from nothing through fields of slowing rambling drums through to lingering pastures of Jethro Tull or Comus-style folk broodiness. Although, is it just me or does every band going now seem to write a song called ‘Astral Plane’ these days?!
Berkana in itself is a stunning album in its own right, but yet it lacks the hooks of that astounding debut album sound that you may still be expecting to hear. How you feel about that is up to you as a listener and what you prefer to suit your mood on any given day. To be honest, I’ve put Berkana on and switched it straight off again at times as it’s simply not a clear-cut attention grabber like Golden Void was. But at other moments after a long, hard day I’ve been happy to let it wrap me up in its warm hug and soothe me, my senses and my worries. I don’t know the Mitchells or the Pinkertons or the Morgans, but yet I somehow feel welcome and encouraged to think differently by their gracious melodies.
Interestingly, the word “Berkana” carries simply the meaning of the Birch Tree; see the album artwork for confirmation. The rune associated with Berkana or “Berkano” however leads us to a symbol of either fertility or the mother-child bond in several European folklores. This in turn transcends the phrasing and intended meaning of Berkana itself into a sense of protective embrace or nurturement, or to the birth or start of some new form of life or creative venture, usually via dispelling pain and healing oneself through learnings given by your rites of passage.
As with everything Golden Void touch, even the title is a work of beauty.
Scribed by: Pete Green