When Luciano Gaglio founded I, Voidhanger Records a decade ago, the music journalist—perhaps unwittingly—put forth his mission statement in the name of the label. If he had called it, say, Transilvanian Hunger Records, it would be pretty obvious what kind of music he hoped to put out. But Gaglio instead name-checked “I, Voidhanger,” an obscure track from Darkthrone’s Plaguewielder, a mid-career oddity that’s maligned when it’s listened to at all. Gaglio throws down that gauntlet of oddity and obscurity with every release on the label.
“It’s a matter of fact that none of our bands sound the same,” Gaglio says of his Italy-based boutique label. While a common thread runs between the dozens of acts who have released albums on I, Voidhanger, it’s one of exploratory creative spirit, not necessarily of sound. Gaglio started the label in 2008, after years of writing for metal magazines and becoming numb to covering new albums by dinosaurs who had lost their creative spark. He wanted I, Voidhanger to be a home for unknown artists doing things in their own way, outside of the cycle of promotion and publicity that the bigger metal labels were able to afford. In the 10 years since the label’s founding, Gaglio’s peerless curatorial vision has made I, Voidhanger a destination for anyone interested in black, death, and doom metal’s bleeding edge. While his A&R work remains largely the same—scouring the internet and his artists’ brains for bold, forward-thinking metal—more and more people are noticing.
“What has really changed is probably the audience’s perception of I, Voidhanger Records,” Gaglio explains. “At first the label was probably seen like a curio, but by now it has been accepted as a tireless purveyor of bold and interesting metal music like few others. That makes me very proud.”
Here, Gaglio breaks down 10 of the most significant albums in I, Voidhanger’s impressive discography. They run from the harrowing, uncategorizable extreme metal of Todesstoss to marathon-length atmospheric black metal of Midnight Odyssey to oddities like Locust Leaves and Howls of Ebb that became relative crossover hits. They all show the various sides of Gaglio’s boundless curiosity and enthusiasm for the truly bizarre heavy music that lurks below the genre’s sterile surface.
De Masticatione Mortuorum In Tumulis
Before they were one of the most critically acclaimed acts of the post-Portal avant-garde black/death scene, Ævangelist was an unknown band in suburban Chicago, honing their ineffable sound without label representation. In 2012, Gaglio discovered them, and everything changed.
It was clear to me that Ævangelist were onto something right after I listened to “Death Illumination,” one of the longest tracks on the debut. I had found it on YouTube, accompanied by a manipulated and fascinating painting from [Polish surrealist Zdzisław] Beksiński that perfectly captured the pernicious atmosphere of the music. I got in touch with [Ævangelist multi-instrumentalist] Reuben Jordan, who I already appreciated for his works under the Benighted in Sodom moniker, and we started from there. It wasn’t easy. It took about a year and a half to release the album because Reuben was going through a turbulent time and facing many problems. But with patience and perseverance, we finally released the album and wrapped it up in a fabulous cover painting, definitely one of my favorites. Both Reuben Jordan and singer Val Dorr are special individuals and very talented musicians. We’re going to collaborate again in the very near future.
Gaglio is Italian, but I, Voidhanger thus far has not worked with many Italian artists. Violet Dreams is about as close as it gets—an American metalhead’s reverent take on classic Italian doom.
[John Gallow and I] share a love for Paul Chain, Death SS, and Italian doom, prog, dark sounds, and horror soundtracks, but he adds to those his eccentricity and twisted doom visions, making the music unpredictable and constantly inventive. I love his Bizarro project as well, but I’ve chosen Violet Dreams because in a way it’s his solo debut, and the songs are not filtered through the sensibility of other band members. This is 100% John Gallow’s art, an amazing release from an unsung hero of the metal underground. And one of the most humble, too.
Howls of Ebb
The Marrow Veil
San Francisco avant-garde black/death project Howls of Ebb became one of the label’s most iconic acts during its short but productive lifespan, releasing three albums with Gaglio before splitting up in 2017. The Marrow Veil helped promulgate I, Voidhanger’s twisted vision to a wider audience on its release in 2015.
I think that I, Voidhanger was already recognized as a source for weird and uncategorizable metal, but with the Howls of Ebb’s records, we gained the attention of that part of the metal audience which is less disposed toward avant-garde sounds and more interested in metal’s glorious sounds of the past. Howls of Ebb have the great merit and the rare ability to combine the true spirit of old extreme metal with a unique approach, and by doing so they put together different kind of metal audiences.
A Subtler Kind of Light
This Greek prog-metal duo didn’t release their debut album until 14 years into their career. In and of itself, that makes A Subtler Kind of Light a major release for I, Voidhanger. The album’s concentrated burst of creativity makes it an unqualified triumph.
It was Ayloss from Spectral Lore that introduced me to Locust Leaves a few years ago. He told me that in a way they influenced him, and I was skeptical, considering that Locust Leaves didn’t release a single record in about 15 years of existence, apart from a split CD with Spectral Lore themselves. Months later, Ayloss was still mentioning Locust Leaves. Their whole [previously unreleased] discography was available for download, and I decided to further explore their music. It was nothing short of a revelation. There was music from more than 10 years ago that sounded fresh and vital as if it was composed the day before. There were short songs, very long compositions, aggressive stuff, atmospheric tracks, all of them intense, dense and crafted in a masterful way. I felt like a child in a candy shop, eager to have a taste of everything. I asked them if I could release some of that old material, but in the end, we agreed to start with their new compositions. Talking with [multi-instrumentalist] Helm, I realized that Locust Leaves’ priority never was to release their music on a professional label. They were simply more interested in pleasing themselves first of all, and the underground success of A Subtler Kind of Light didn’t change that attitude.
The astronomy-obsessed atmospheric black metal project Mare Cognitum has become a cornerstone of I, Voidhanger’s roster. Phobos Monolith was the first full-length the project released on the label, and it remains one of its finest works.
I was expecting great things from [sole Mare Cognitum member Jacob Buczarski], but Phobos Monolith was a total surprise. Jacob seemed more self-confident than on his previous works. The songwriting was stellar and varied—the melodies more satisfying. I guess the album can be considered a landmark in Mare Cognitum’s career, as it gave Jacob the possibility to test his capabilities once and for all, not only as a musician but also as a sound engineer. He’s one of those artists that doesn’t stop moving forward, that doesn’t stop perfecting their art. His new material is more exciting and mature than in the past, as you are going to discover very soon.
Shards of Silver Fade
The first thing you’ll notice about Shards of Silver Fade is that it clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half hours—a provocation for the short-attention-span epoch we find ourselves in. Dis Pater, Midnight Odyssey’s sole member, deliberately tests the listener’s patience, but he also makes it clear that his career-defining epic needs every last second it uses.
To put it simply, there are albums that say a lot in less than half an hour, and albums that need much more time to unfold. Dis Pater’s songs explore cosmic landscapes of transcendental beauty. They magnify life and death as parts of an eternal cycle of renovation, they celebrate the majesty of the night sky and of nature in general. They search for answers to our existential questions. And they do all that by blending in different kinds of music: black metal, dark ambient, funeral doom, death-doom, darkwave, classical, krautrock, space rock, electronic music, folk metal, et cetera. The album is certainly long, but one doesn’t need to listen to it in just one sitting. Each song of Shards of Silver Fade is a world in itself, and you can take your time to explore it far and wide before visiting the next one. Of all the Midnight Odyssey releases, this is my favorite, because it works as a summary of Dis Pater’s art, with ideas and styles coming from his other projects, The Crevices Below and Tempestuous Fall, now defunct.
Ayloss, the founder and sole member of Spectral Lore, is something like a figurehead and mascot for I, Voidhanger. Not only does he regularly release new music with Gaglio, his work feels like the purest possible embodiment of the label’s ethos. III walks to the cliff’s edge of what atmospheric black metal can be and gazes into the abyss below. It should be required listening for anyone interested in boundary-pushing black metal.
It’s always been a pleasure to work with Ayloss. Ayloss is more than a metal musician, he is a thinker and a philosopher. Each detail of his music, each single nuance, each single passage is thought-out and perfectly crafted. Mind you, I’m not talking about writing great riffs or playing a nice guitar solo. That’s the easiest part of the job! I’m talking about textures, tones, colors, timing, the organization of melodies, and structures. I’m talking about the fact his music flows naturally even during the most complex moments, as he makes things look easier than they are. His compositions should be studied in music schools. The funniest part of running a label is that I have to attend the creative process: bands often send me sketches of songs, and it’s always interesting to see how they change over time. As you can imagine, the creative process of III was illuminating. I’ve seen the tracks going through infinite changes till their reached their final form and perfection, and in a way, it was like watching Caravaggio or Michelangelo while they were painting their masterpieces.
In 2012, French black metal trio Ysengrin recorded their masterpiece—a five-part opus presented as a single 40-minute song, which comprises the entirety of To Endotaton. Its form obscures its utilitarian function, which is to deliver the band’s updates on the ’80s extreme metal of Mercyful Fate and the ’90s Greek black metal of Rotting Christ and Varathron.
Ysengrin’s To Endotaton is a very special release. It has an old-school, ’80s aura, as well as a clear Greek black metal vibe, but Ysengrin’s main man Guido Saint Roch has boldly adopted a progressive structure, unifying the five chapters of the album into one single 40-minute song. And he did that so remarkably well in terms of dynamics and general flow that one doesn’t even notice. Add to that a sincere occult vibe and the amazing cover art by Turkka G. Rantanen (who did art for Adramelech, Demilich, and Demigod, among the others), and what you get is a modern classic.
Perhaps the most blatantly difficult album in I, Voidhanger history, the 2015 full-length by German collective Todesstoss is truly beyond any concept of genre or scene. If there’s one I, Voidhanger release you should listen to in order to hear the extent to which the label is pushing the boundaries of metal convention, it’s this one.
Todesstoss has always been one of my favorite bands. I’ve followed them since their debut, so you can imagine how happy I was when sole member Martin Lang got in touch proposing a collaboration. Once again, we’re talking about a one-of-a-kind artist, and Hirngemeer is even more special than its predecessors because of its complexity and the surreal quality of the black metal melodies. The tracks are very long and demand a lot of attention, but it’s a very rewarding listening experience once you familiarize with Todesstoss’ musical language. There’s nothing more satisfying of when you finally understand music that appeared impenetrable at first listen. In some way, that implies a process of growth for the listener, and as a listener, I’m always thankful to those artists whose music is a constant challenge.
Converge, Rivers of Hell
For this release, Dis Pater contributed songs from all three of his solo black metal projects—Midnight Odyssey, Tempestuous Fall, and The Crevices Below. The album explores the rivers of Hades as depicted in classical literature and mythology. It works brilliantly as a study of the subtle differences between Dis Pater’s projects, and a requiem for two of them.
When I started the label, I wanted to offer special thematic releases centered on the strong, osmotic relationship between metal, art, and literature. I’ve always wanted to do a concept inspired by the rivers of hell from the Greek and Latin myth. Those myths were a source of inspiration for Midnight Odyssey’s sole member, Dis Pater. Therefore, he decided to participate in his other projects, Tempestuous Fall, and The Crevices Below, which he put to rest right after this release to concentrate on Midnight Odyssey only. Converge, Rivers of Hell is a successful release also because of the amazing artwork by the Flemish visionary painter Erik Heyninck, a true master of surreal and fantastic art.