It’s increasingly difficult to be unique these days in any sense of the word. Throw on a toque, rolled up above the ears, alongside a raggedy old band t-shirt, some torn skinny jeans and a pair of Doc Marten’s? Been done to the death of all deaths. Got a new ride? Oh, you wanna throw on some cool rims and tint out all the windows as black as your soul? Yea…we’ve all seen that. OOOOO!! WAIT!! Check out that fella’s new hairstyle! It’s shaved on both sides, with a zig-zag design going from temple to just below the ear, it’s got an up-do goin on up top, and a two foot long rat-tail in the back! Hate to tell ya…that’s more than likely been the go-to-do for a plethora of self proclaimed one-of-a-kinders. Even most stylings and genre pushing attempts in the world of music have been exhausted…but apparently not all. Somewhat recently I “discovered” a band who’s name I had seen once or twice before but based on my own extremely flawed and mislead assumptions, I never actually checked them out. That is until I heard a single from what was to be their upcoming album, entitled “Head Mounted Sideways”. Was it metal? Was it electronic? Was it heavy? Was it soft? Or perhaps an amalgamation of all of the above! Although I had heard similarities in other bands before, the fluidity in which so many nuances joined to become this one beautiful and harmonious beast of a track was without a doubt, profoundly unique. It was finally hearing this song from a band that I had long (admittedly, foolishly, without any real cause) avoided, that I then decided to check out more of VOLA’s back catalogue. And may I say, holy shit? Because HOLY SHIT! Even in their short yet impressive set of releases, they managed to never release the same album/EP twice, proving even further that they epitomized ‘unique’ both within their own set of releases while simultaneously setting themselves apart from their peers. But it was with Applause of a Distant Crowd that I truly found myself enamoured with their uncommon brand of tunage. It was with that exceptional masterpiece that I begun to salivate for what was to come next. This coming Friday, VOLA will release their third album, Witness. And let me assure you, the band has not failed in yet again blowing my mind with the multitude of dynamics and twists they can even toss in to a nine-song album.
Genre: Progressive Metal | Progressive Rock
Label: Mascot Records
FLOW / LONGEVITY / ORIGINALITY
Within these wondrous nine songs there truly is a magnificent array of mixed genres and flourishing unexpected moments all wrapped up in one stupendous package. The mixture of what one would be considered to be a straighter forward way of performing a song versus the startling and unforeseen can truly throw the listener for a loop in a way that one might wonder how well each song flows into the next, or the overall feel of the entire album. The album hits hard…yet in almost a subtle manner…straight out of the gate with what became another single, “Straight Lines”, then smacks you in the face with one of the heavier hitters on Witness, “Head Mounted Sideways”, followed by one of the softer (yet far from simple) tracks, “24 Light-Years”. The album is vastly interspersed with its heavy/soft, ethereal/direct blend that upon a precursor listen you may question the validity of the chosen order of songs, but I assure you it was quite the contrary. It works. So damn well. It’s THE fact that VOLA have always been so diverse in their stylings (as well as being one of the most consistent aspects of the band) that this is the perfect recipe. Admittedly for first time listeners of the band, this may seem a touch jarring, but only for a moment until they’ve realized this is what VOLA does so well.
It is because this band absolutely is so damn unique in their own right that Witness, much like their past releases I have found, will have such strong stay power. That combined with the fact that so many of their choruses have such an anthemic vibe (“Straight Lines”, “Napalm”), or are just so dang fun to sing-along to (“Freak”, “24 Light-Years”) that will help to keep this album in quite the consistent rotation, even years down the road.
Well, I believe I’ve made myself quite clear on how original I perceive VOLA to be. It isn’t simply the fact alone that I believe they play a refreshing version of what progressive metal has been pegged as these days or that they have never pigeonholed themselves into any sort of box even within their own catalogue. It’s that all of these facts are done seamlessly and more. With a band that are already throws your head into a tailspin to then go and toss on the duo of producer SENSE and rapper B L S (otherwise known as Shahmen) on what is undoubtedly one of the heaviest VOLA songs ever produced (“These Black Claws”) just before the mostly acoustic-driven song, “Freak”, just shows that they have zero bounds or fears in taking risks. And that will pay off for this band time and time again.
VOCALS / INSTRUMENTATION
The vocals of Asger Mygind are one of the main reasons I fell so head over heels for VOLA. At times strictly baritone, while shifting without hesitation into a more tenor register, this man has a skill and range that is unrivaled by so many. It’s on songs like “freak” or “24 Light-Years” that Mygind shows his softer croons, while boasting a more hardened approach on tracks like “Stone Leader Falling Down” and “These Black Claws”. Furthermore, I simply find his voice to be one of a kind in almost any form of metal, and that in and of itself is something that would draw a massive variant of fans both new and old.
Yet again I fond myself about to repeat (perhaps in different wording) something I feel I’ve stressed since the beginning of this review. Almost everything about VOLA is exclusive strictly to VOLA, and that includes their instrumentation. Yes, admittedly there isn’t a ton about how each member plays their respective instrument that’s vastly intricate or rare, and yet it all still feels so particular to them alone. Typically, when one would think of any sort of acoustic song, a bonfire with a starry night perhaps coincides as what be an accompanied visual, rather than a range of mountains surrounded by clouds. I mention this because when I closed my eyes listening to “Freak”, that’s where my mind took me. The airy keys and soft as a trickle of water drumming took me to that place and left me feeling anything but freakish. The heavy in nature, all while feeling slightly symphonic opening guitars to “Future Bird” did not lead me to believe they’d be followed by such at atmospheric set of verses, and yet they mixed so astoundingly. It’ the fact that you rarely ever know what to expect from VOLA’s instrumentation that makes it yet another unique attribute of this band.
COMPOSITION / PRODUCTION
It’s quite clear that VOLA are not a band to take any aspect of the writing process lightly. Nothing is churned out simply to add an edge or make an attempt at sounding like anyone else, simply to release some music. Nothing feels forced or half assed. Every single aspect and attribute of each song feels like it was painstakingly put through a ridiculously thorough thought process and each layer and texture was thrown under that metaphorical magnifying glass. It’s one of the many things I respect so much about this band. Even in a short album of nine songs, I could only imagine the insane process of putting it all together and hoping it’s all at its upmost peak of perfection.
My. Dear. Lord. The production on Witness is magnificent. It would have to be for a band who adds textual layer upon layer in each and every song and hopes that the listener can truly pick up on all of it. And when you truly sit down and listen to this album, you can. With each listen you will find something new and wonderful, and that’s due to a big thanks to the production value put into this album.
I must admit, I typically get bored of almost any album reasonably quickly. I can’t quite figure out why, but I believe it’s based on a sort of addiction to music in general. I always want/need that next ‘fix’. This honestly even includes albums that I LOVE. I will always go back to said album, but I constantly need something else thrown in the mix. With Witness I didn’t find myself getting that same itch. I absolutely did find something new on the album with each listen which helped to constantly keep it fresh in my mind. I even went as far as to perform a little experiment, and attempt to find other bands that had the same general genre tags and see if I could find any similarities. And while there was some, I have to say it took a fine-tooth comb to find any. That (as I’ve said many times) is because VOLA truly is so unique, and Witness furthers this attribute in stellar ways. Do not sleep on this band like I did for so long. If anything, this album will be the most perfect introduction to a band that will open both your ears and your mind.