Graded on a Curve: Golden Void, Berkana

Hailing from the Bay Area of sunny California, the fittingly named Golden Void specializes in hard rock of an early ‘70s vintage. Incorporating a druggy glow and emphasis on flowing cohesion, they’re neither too loose nor too tight, stomping up dust clouds while expanding outward on their sophomore effort. Listeners pining for a dose of old school organ-infused guitar-heavy thud should investigate Berkana; it’s available now on LP/CD/digital through Thrill Jockey.

Guitarist-vocalist Isaiah Mitchell (also of Earthless), keyboardist-vocalist Camilla Saufley-Mitchell (of Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound), bassist Aaron Morgan, and drummer Justin Pinkerton comprise Golden Void. A relatively new act on the scene, the band’s interpersonal musical connections span back to middle school days, with Morgan and Pinkerton playing together in both Roots of Orchis and Eyes.

As can be gathered by their surnames, the guitarist and keyboardist have formed a marriage bond, and all this familiarity is borne out in Golden Void’s well-practiced thrust. Unequivocally hard rocking, the results aren’t accurately summed-up as stoner inclined; biker rock is nearer to the gist, but they frankly don’t sound much like the Blue Cheer, nor do they strive for an overwrought debasement of the 12-bar template, though the blues-rock of yore is definitely a shaping influence.

A clue comes in the choice of moniker, which derives from a tune on Warrior on the Edge of Time, the 1975 release by space rock cornerstone Hawkwind. This places a few of Golden Void’s appendages into a psychedelic bag, but their general reality is closer to Black Sabbath and especially Deep Purple, with nods to Pentagram, Uriah Heep, and the numerous supergroups branching out from Cream, Jeff Beck Group, and Mountain.

In contempo terms Golden Void are worthy of the supergroup tag. Those desiring a current comparison should think of Mount Carmel, but there’s just enough West Coast ballroom residue in the bowl to assist Golden Void in standing out, though ears requiring at least a pretense of originality might get frustrated by the favoring of stylistic immersion over attempts at broken ground.

Issued in 2012, Golden Void’s self-titled first album is a straightforward affair, but its undisguised nature isn’t flagrant and in turn doesn’t lead them into a ditch of nostalgia. Its seven songs, captured mostly live at Lucky Cat Studios with Phil Manley of Trans Am/The Fucking Champs on board, positioned them as torchbearers for a sound still too frequently derided as a link between the beat groups/garage bands of the ‘60s and the heavy metal of the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

In fact they transcend the torchbearer label. And truly nostalgic combos endeavor toward facsimile; attention to hindsight allows Golden Void to sidestep the mistakes and excesses of hard rock’s past. They employ a variety of tempos and glide instead of plod, manage to spread out while avoiding unnecessary durations, eschew collective indulgence by utilizing mild-altering aspects as a seasoning, and perhaps most importantly come to the studio with full-fledged songs rather than jam fragments, blues scraps, or barely concealed gleanings from other sources.

These qualities persevere and ripen on Berkana; another seven songs underscoring Golden Void’s instrumental acumen, their prowess never falters into a confederacy of grandstanding virtuosi. It was cut at Louder Studios with Manley’s fellow Fucking Champ Tim Green at the knobs, a veteran engineer-producer flaunting a credits-list including Melvins, Comets on Fire, Howlin Rain, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Lungfish.

Berkana’s process considerably differed from that of Golden Void. Specifically, it’s the byproduct of multiple edits and overdubs as each member recorded in isolation. Yet if different, immediately apparent is the retention of heavy environs, with opener “Burbank’s Dream” a solid piece of writing delivering a soulful edge. Morgan and Pinkerton are as lithe as they are massive, which is crucial to the track’s propulsion, a near-strutting groove serving as a launching pad for some superb soloing by Mitchell.

Morgan’s bass is turned up to a rumble for the potent psychedelia of “Silent Season” as Mitchell’s guitar exudes acidic ripples and his mouth spews a lyrical bounty. On the subject, Golden Void’s vocal approach, favoring smooth, largely non-agitated tones that could feasibly impress those unlikely to enjoy the raucousness of the whole, is far preferable to the straining and posturing sometimes attached to the genre.

Pleasant is the subtlety of the keyboards in the mix, the electric piano in “Silent Season” offering differentiation from the precedent of Purple and Heep. Organ strains do enhance “Dervishing,” which at just short of 3:30 is concise and melodic enough to represent Berkana’s prospective single. The tone isn’t softened, however; Pinkerton is hitting energetically and Mitchell whips out a swell bit of bloozy business.

“Astral Plane” (not a Modern Lovers cover) stretches back out, though part of the focus remains on hooks, providing firm bedrock for the instrumental weave; bookending flute and crystalline keyboard is outstanding guitar cleanly soaring amid the heft. The whole may appeal to fans of exploratory motions (particularly from Golden Void’s region) not averse to a little racket.

On the other hand “I’ve Been Down” sounds like it’s blaring out of the speakers of an idling Dodge Challenger as hash gets smoked out of a tin can pipe down by the river. It’s got a huge riff and a rhythm to match, but with an atmospheric midsection gradually ramping back up to a bruising finale, the whole nicely evades the gratuitous.

“The Beacon” also wields sizable riffs, fruitfully combining them with the aforementioned gliding tendency and adroit tempo shifts as wailing pedal-stomp significantly elevates the proposition. Tandem dexterity is really the recipe to Golden Void’s success; as said, there’s basically no uncharted territory on display here, but Berkana still misses the swamp of staleness by a wide margin. “Storm and Feather” slows the pace for the finish, blending meditative threads and exquisite amp burn as Pinkerton works the tom with admirable restraint.

Stoner and Doom rock, with elements of metal, psych, and sludge thrown in, has insured a steady supply of Heaviness over the last couple decades. Much of it is targeted directly to the converted, but through inspiration, smart choices, and songs sticking in the memory, Golden Void has produced a terrific LP; Berkana helps invigorate the style, and has the potential to tap into fresh ears.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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