When not creating some of my favourite psychedelic, prog laced heavy doom with his main band, Milwaukee’s Sleestak, frontman Matt Schmitz has also sought to explore esoteric, spiritual, and dark themes through his ambient side project Illuminated Void.
Having released their first, eponymous album in late 2021, the Celtic flavoured, spectral dream like six track affair sought to evoke a drifting, soft and other worldly state that explored the use of sound and varied instrumentation to create a subtle palette of gossamer light hypnagogic consciousness.
Following this shortly after in 2022 with the epic length track The Vesper Serpent, Schmitz expanded on these themes using delicate movements of neo-classical melodies and arrangements in which the user could immerse and lose themselves in, once more seeking to bridge the gap between waking and dreaming through the media of music.
Through this unfettered vehicle, the elements of ethereal, atmospheric moments of drifting that had always been present in his main band, particularly on 2020’s incredible Aeon, were writ large and given a singular voice of their own almost offering a blissed out companion piece to the heavier, crunching undertones they had sought to carve out.
As attention turned to the band’s third album, coming after the release of Sleestak’s dark and brooding Harbinger in 2022, there was a notable shift in musical direction. Retaining the lilting core of the project, the latest album Veriditas (Latin for greenness or viridity) also seeks to embrace the heavier side of music and draw together influences from the likes of Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane as well as doom heavyweights such as Cathedral, Paradise Lost and Anathema.
Very much a way of attempting to explore the subconscious, Veriditas loses none of the original inspiration, despite the addition of vocals. Whilst the previous two releases were largely instrumental with only the plaintive, waif like choral effects seemingly adding an angelic, rather than human, voice to call out in the stillness of contemplation, the third album sees the introduction of the multi-faceted vocals that have an unsurprising kinship with Sleestak.
Bookended by two tracks that stretch over the sixteen-minute mark, the album is broken into five parts that look to meld the previous aesthetic with the harder edged, darker musings that lie just outside of the comforting warm floating sensation they previously tapped into.
Opening with The Maze Of Sleep, the album begins in a stately fashion with up tempo, luscious and grandiose sounding doom rock. Driving guitars and crisp drums layered with synths usher in this urgent and dense sound before the almost blackened growl of Schmitz sounding more like something that belongs on the likes of Andrew Markuszewski’s Devil With No Name over anything heard on Illuminated Void’s previous releases.
Driving guitars and crisp drums layered with synths usher in this urgent and dense sound…
Rather than going for the throat, Schmitz opts for the expansive, and the feral opening morphs into more meandering prog sounds, the anger of earlier dispelling into more introspective, space rock territory that harnesses the ambiance of previous albums, magnifying the considered peyote like trip that bleeds over from the experimentation Schmitz introduced into Sleestak (again, see Aeon). The semi acoustic swirling passages move in that sumptuous hazy feel as the multi-instrumentation creates a murky and enveloping experience.
Virgo Lucifera, the first of the three shorter passages, continues the ominous vibe with stamping drums and a weighty building of atmosphere. The deep monk like chanting and bellows juxtapose with the clarity of the track, calling back to that floating feeling but this time teetering on the edge of the unsettling that evokes the feeling of something wrong is just out of reach. The beautiful sounding guitar solo wistfully saunters under the creeping plod of the bass and drums to great effect.
After the moody preceding track, The Narrow Gates fades in with an urgent drum pattern under the guitar work and the muted vocal growls. The harder edged riffing, that is the most metal the band has been on any release, is deceptively heavy given they manage to walk the line between that and gentle ambiance. As the track drops out into the light, almost indie rock, strumming and dancing melody of the lead guitar, the prog influence is easy to hear. The guitar and drums bridge the sound, allowing the synth to flutter butterfly like over the composition adding delicate shades of light to the deep laden vocals that have been harnessed to great effect in Schmitz’s other incarnation.
The final track of this mid album trio, the awesomely titled God Is An All-Consuming Fire is a tender acoustic track despite the fierceness of the name. The shortest track on Veriditas is a lilting lullaby of gently strummed guitar and incidental choral effects. The soft baritone intones a tale of sad lament that sees the title repeated for the hook and contrasting with the venom and power of the previous entry.
Closing with the second epic length track, Veriditas/Equinox, Illuminated Void seeks to combine the huge scope of what has gone before in a thick wall of sound from the start with a towering, rich combination that showcases both the ability to channel pure heaviness and yet somehow create that hypnotic spectral vibe that is ever present in the band’s quest to explore the labyrinths of the mind in search of (divine) wisdom.
Unconcerned with the desperate drive to discover the deeper connection to the ancient civilisations and teachings of the past, Illuminated Void seeks to wander in the wasteland between knowing and higher consciousness, dedicated to the winding path of spiritual wisdom and insight through reflection.
If all that sounds a bit much like new age hippy bollocks, then the good news is if you like explorative, progressive music that can balance light and shade, managing to channel the dark heaviness of the soul and soothe the savage beast, then this album absolutely delivers on that front too.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden