Potmos Hetoimos - Vox Medusae - (9/10)
Published on January 21, 2019
The best way to get this review off to the proper start would be to have John Cleese sit at a desk in the middle of a river, and with a stern face solemnly announce, “And now for something completely different.” Because even though there are countless forms of metal out there, I believe Potmos Hetoimos to be something truly unique for the overwhelming majority of metalheads. Matt Matheson, the lone nut behind this project, has been steadily releasing albums since 2006, with his most recent releases showcasing an unpredictable clash of styles that is likely to be inaccessible even for many serious music lovers.
The first thing you notice on this album (after a jarring intro of maniacal screaming) is the distortion on the guitar. It’s so over-the-top that it becomes difficult to distinguish it from heavy static (either that, or a microphone being overrun by locusts). Imagine that sound and juxtapose it with some clean reverbed vocals. Then, let that carry on for a bit before the chaotic cacophony suddenly stops and gives way to arpeggiated jazz chords (played on a glockenspiel) and softly layered over funky fusion bass lines. Sound good? Well, that’s the beginning of Vox Medusae: a bizarre, harrowing experience that walks a very fine line between the brilliant and the outright insane.
If I were to describe this sound to somebody who’s never heard it, the closest bands I could think of would be מזמור, Agruss, or Njiqahdda. Since that’s admittedly probably not very helpful, I will say this: imagine your skull fracturing under an impossibly massive pressure, but finding hope and solace in the rays of bright light that enter your mind through the cracks. Doesn’t make sense? Well good, because this sort of contradiction is the only way I know to explain this album. It’s so excessively oppressive as to almost be non-music, but then out of nowhere you find that subtle melodies have been laced into each piece the whole time, but skirted under the radar because you were too busy being buried alive in the onslaught.
This sort of heaviness by itself is not something that impresses me at all, which is why it’s so important that I emphasise that it is the coexistence of such disparate forms simultaneously that draws me in. The charm of this album lies hiding under a harsh surface that must be pierced before it can be manifest. This is a daunting task though; it’s a bit like trying to sneak a taste of a battering ram that’s currently in use. Aside from the fact that may not be the best idea, it only takes a few seconds of reflection to realise how ineffective it is. If you want to see the beauty of this music, you really have to disentangle it a little bit with a few patient listens first, and the simplest path I found was to take the album as two unique halves. The heavy-fisted first half ends with the haunting and exquisite interlude at the end of “Fits and Fevers”, and the second half starts with the opening of the fifth track, “Perseus, Pristine”. I chose this spot because it is precisely here that Vox Medusae rips its own protective shroud in twain.
The second half is generally slower, sparser, and simply more musical (for lack of a better word). I would say that the second half is more melodic, but the truth is that the first half is no less melodic; it’s just got its melody hidden from plain view. If the first half is an iron hammer the size of Nebraska (albeit with silver trim), then the second half is an iron arrow with silver adorning the tip and the feathers. The former is powered by brute force and the latter is elegant and efficient, but both have their proportionate elements of keen artistry and both are equally destructive. The second half isn’t without its heavy parts, mind you, but those parts are executed with more precision and focus. So the pain doesn’t stop until the hour-long album ends with an eerie piano postlude, which serves as a coup de grâce at the finale of your journey, when your battered mind can sustain the pleasure no longer.
In the world of avant-garde and progressive music, there are plenty of artists out there who appear to be in some sort of competition solely to see who can be the weirdest and least accessible of them all. And whilst I would grant that Potmos Hetoimos is certainly a project of the avant-garde and progressive type, I would reject the idea that there is any attempt here to be weird for its own sake. I don’t pretend that this album is for everybody, but those who like extreme or experimental metal shouldn’t pass this up.