San Francisco's Body Void represents something much greater than heavy metal. The sludge-ridden crusted doom trio—in addition to crafting apocalyptically heavy music—is a loud and intellectual voice for inclusivity and awareness for the LGBTQIA+ community. For Body Void, their voice is loudest in metal music for obvious reasons. Their recent output, 2016's Ruins, and the impending I Live In A Burning House are visceral and soul-crushing edifices of doom metal. Yet, beneath the sonic waves are progressive messages through personal insight.
Much of this personal insight comes from vocalist and guitarist, Will Ryan. Ryan came out as queer, non-binary around the time the band began. Since its inception, Body Void, once named Devoid, has been meticulously crafting music against oppressive ideology. It's with I Live Inside A Burning House, however, the trio's music and message are at their best.
Take the staggering, 21 and a half-minute closing track, "Given." Ryan's piercing shriek will catch you off guard if you're not ready from the start. Their voice rings out over harsh, droning riffs dripping in feedback. In fact, much of this track relies on Ryan's vocals and the droning riffs from the guitar and bass. Interspersed crash cymbals and drum hits appear, but only as exclamation points for the first third of the song. By the eight-minute mark, things relatively pick up the pace. A consistent groove emerges and begins to truly take hold. This groove ultimately sustains until the track's conclusion—capping off a truly sensational record.
Interview with Will Ryan of Body Void
Metal Injection: A lot of people may not know this, but you weren’t originally named Body Void. You began as Devoid. What were the early days of being in the band like and what ultimately led to the name change?
Will Ryan: I think early on we were really searching for our sound and figuring out how to play with each other as a band. All three of us hadn’t played music regularly in a few years so there was definitely a sense of making it up as we went along. We had an idea of what we wanted to do musically but I think it’s only been recently that we’ve really realized that idea. It’s always been a band of contrasts and exploration without sticking to a tried and true formula or limiting ourselves to a template or genre. It’s only been through trial and error that we’ve been able to accomplish that vision I think.
The name change was a pretty practical decision, to be honest. There are many other bands with the name Devoid and we wanted a name no one else had. Body Void was the name of a song on our second demo. With the release of our first studio recording, Ruins, the opportunity arose to reconfigure so we went with the new name.
Metal Injection: I Live Inside A Burning House, your first full-length record and the follow-up to Ruins, tackles queer identity, mental illness, the interplay between those two, and how it affects the push-pull relationship between material and immaterial existence. Will, I understand that you identify as queer and non-binary. Would you be willing to elaborate more on how your gender identity plays a role into the themes that went into Body Void’s new album?
Will: Body Void (Devoid at the time) started around the time I was coming out to myself as non-binary so for me, the band has always been wrapped up in that aspect of my life. Early on it was a means to really explore gender and gender dysphoria even before I really understood those things for myself. Lyrically our first demo was kind of all songs about and against white supremacy. Our second switched directions and went very personal into gender stuff.
With the new album, I wanted to write about the day-to-day, almost mundane reality of just existing with mental illness while queer. On our last record, there was a kind of finality about everything. It dealt a lot more with death and the end of things. With I Live Inside A Burning House I wanted to explore what it means to just live and keep going while pushing through the daily struggles of trauma, depression, and gender dysphoria.
Metal Injection: I’m sure that writing music for Body Void has been potentially therapeutic. I can imagine writing about these struggles, depression, and dysphoria could be cathartic. Are there any other services or outreach available that you find are helpful for you—especially in the early days of finding yourself?
Will: Definitely. The band has been a lifeline in more ways than one. I think it’s important, if you’re able, to be open about mental illness in general since not having an outlet for it can make it harder to live with. That’s vital on an institutional/societal level, but I think heavy/extreme music is uniquely suited to be an outlet since it so often evokes those struggles just sonically. At least personally, it offers that kind of validation and solace.
I’m privileged enough to have local resources devoted to queer and trans people. But for me early on reading and hearing about others’ experiences and just seeing non-binary people living their lives was a huge help. Learning how to do that emotional audit regarding gender was also just eye-opening regarding the ways we learn and perform gender. So unlearning all that was and still is a big part of it too.
Metal Injection: From your personal experiences and what you see in the metal community, what do you believe needs to be done to make heavy metal as a whole more inclusive to those in the LGBTQIA+ community?
Will: I find overall there is still a sense that cis-het male is the default in metal, which can be frustrating and damaging. Just being more aware of what women, non-binary, and queer people go through in these spaces is a huge part of making it more inclusive for everyone. Believing them when they talk about their experiences too. I also think it’s important for promoters and musicians to make very clear the venues they work and play at are queer-friendly and to hold people accountable for their sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. To make it clear there’s zero tolerance for those things.
The place I see the most open hostility toward queer folks in metal is online, which is maybe not surprising. I think in that context, people with larger platforms whether they’re musicians, promoters, writers, or just active fans need to be vocal about these issues, to set an example and to actively push back against sexism, homophobia, transphobia when it arises. I also think it’s important to hold up and elevate queer artists and writers. To push back against that image of cis-het male default and normalize queerness as a part of metal.