Stijn van Cauter is a Belgian artist, a multi-disciplinary one, especially known from his sonic outlets, I think (at least, this goes for me). He is the guy behind truly excellent projects like Until Death Overtakes Me, Arcane Voidsplitter, Inframonolithium, The Sad Sun (with U.S.-based musician E.M. Hearst), The Nulll Collective (idem) and several more. If you enter this guy’s name in the ‘Search’ tab, you will surely find several reviews I did for some of his projects.
Another project born out of Stijn’s mind is Gruulvoqh, which I only knew by name. It’s a solo-outfit again, which Stijn started in 2018, after he recorded the (lengthy) piece The End Of Gruulvoqh. Gruulvoqh actually is the sonic companion, the soundtrack, for a sci-fi comic – and this is another aspect of this Flemish guy’s extensive artistic view, being a visual artist too (though, as you might know, he is involved with the layout and visuals of several releases as well). The fantasy story deals with a being called Gruulvoqh, member and guardian / explorer of a race called Lioxae – a cosmic specie searching for truth and reality within the vast Cosmos. Gruulvoqh sort of sacrifices himself to search for the all-embracing answers on universe’s questions.
A while ago, Stijn aka SVC recorded four compositions, all of them clocking over fifteen minutes, gathered under the working title of The Eternal Traveller (referring to the protagonist of the story). Amongst them that original piece from 2018, The End Of Gruulvoqh. It was originally digitally released in very early 2019 via Stijn’s independent label Void Overflow (Stijn, by the way, also runs Nulll Records), and Moscow, Russian Federation based label GS Productions did re-release it, FYI, in August 2019 on compact disc. Stijn took care as well, by the way, of the production.
It is that ‘older’ promotional piece The End Of Gruulvoqh that has the honor to start this recording. Initially, it sounds like a more melancholic approach of what SVC normally brings, with a mixture of electric and acoustic strings, slow yet adventurous drum work (programmed?), but also with dreamlike, somewhat ‘Gothic’ styled melodies, that typifying touch of funereal bleakness, and the addition of floaty leads / solos and fairylike female voices (though, the latter quite limited in performance). A fine aspect somehow, is that the sound of the electric guitars has something quite obscure and primal, which sort of trespasses the borders with the Black Metal scene. No, Gruulvoqh do NOT perform Black Metal at all, but sound-wise, there sort of is a subtle comparison, a modest link.
The Coffin Weeps (the ‘shortest’ composition, with its length of 15:02) begins with semi-bombastic orchestrations, soon joined by, once again, that fine interplay of both acoustic and electric guitar. The drum patterns are little more explorative and even somewhat militant now and then, adding a rather epic touch. The operatic female voices return (they have a certain vocaloid timbre, which is both bizarre and unusual), and the almost symphonic synth passages veil the whole into a quite oppressive yet orbital mist.
With To Live Again, Gruulvoqh somehow accomplishes the doomed atmosphere initially constructed in The Coffin Weeps. Despite the title, the funereal approach is much more represented, with an overall atmosphere being more suffocative and saturnine. The low-tuned string section has a deep-droning and forward-pushing attitude, floating smoothly hand in hand with the fluttering main melody and the moony atmosphere. Once again, the voices strengthen that remarkable touch of dream and wonder. The additional guitars at the final sequence, by the way, have something psychedelic, yet profoundly astral too.
The title track, finally, represents the epitome of this unaccustomed recording. Here too, several layers of string-driven heaviness and pushing, determined drum patterns, get darkly colored by mesmerizing solo-work, those high-pitched female vocals and (semi) acoustic passages. The sound is spatial and unearthly (cf. the mysterious cover artwork!), and the repetition works opiating.
The album The Eternal Traveller stands miles away from the abyssal Funeral Doom approach of most other projects which include Stijn van Cauter, but still this guy manages to put his own mark on the result. The concept might look more adventurous and abundant than the aural result, yet somehow this story captures and captivates. Each single piece is quite repetitive in nature, even monotone in essence, but that is fantastic thing. Reason: it strengthens the moody atmosphere and the adventuresome concept. The lack of morbid, tortured growls, replaced by those semi-heavenly female chants, is another unique element that characterizes this project – once again showing that all separated outfits by Mister van Cauter are separated entities for sure, and not some easy continuations of any other one.
Listening to Gruulvoqh needs perseverance and endurance – and lots of time – before ‘feeling’ the whole story. But once again it might be worth spending your time…