Amassing a team of all stars is no guarantee. Look at sports. It always seems like the teams that jam their roster with big stars are blinded by past statistics and greatness elsewhere and lose the idea of chemistry being the binding factor. Whatever it is, the system never seems to work anymore, and teams that build from within are the ones that have the most success and longevity.
That same ideal also seems to carry over to metal. Off the top of your head, name as many bands as you can of all-star players mashed together who went onto any great creative heights. I’ll give you a second. That in mind, when I first heard the lineup for the band Vhöl, I had two thoughts: How soon can I hear this, and what the hell is a Vhöl? Combining noted members of bands including Hammers of Misfortune, Agalloch, Ludicra, YOB, Amber Asylum, and a few others sounded like a metallic dream made in whatever kind of heaven state would produce such a thing. Yet, as noted, all-star teams don’t always work, and the proof was going to be in whatever music the band created.
Well, Vhöl’s self-titled 2013 debut instantly melted away any worry, as the band—vocalist Mike Scheidt, guitarist John Cobbett, bassist Sigrid Sheie, drummer Aesop Dekker—released a pretty unpredictable collection of songs that came at you from all sorts of points. There was classic metal, thrash, punk, hardcore, you name it, and the album felt either like a really fun one-off or the beginning of something special. Turns out it was the latter as the band has returned with “Deeper Than Sky,” an even more exciting, ambitious collection that feels like Vhöl truly coming together as a unit. There is metallic glory through and through, but there also are gritty moments, weird ones, and sequences that feel like the band is letting loose and just having a damn good time. I feel like there’s a Queen influence in spots with some of the dramatics, but maybe that’s just me hearing that. I’ve loved this thing from listen one all the way through to whatever number I’m on now, and this is the album that really starts showing the band’s terrifying potential.
“The Desolate Damned” gets the record off on a raucous note, with classic metal guitars blaring over top, the band launching into an amalgamation of power and thrash, and Scheidt going all Rob Halford, with his voice reaching high register and piercing the senses. This is total metal indulgence, with the band whipping up a frenzy and not letting go until the track reaches its end. Then “3 A.M.” goes in a total opposite direction, with Scheidt howling and barking his words as the track takes on more of a hardcore/D-beat personality. “The air is getting thin,” Scheidt wails over the chorus, while the band also dips back into power surges and even some prog. The title cut runs a hefty 12 minutes, and it starts grim, with the vocals spat furiously and the drama being ramped on high. There are plenty of twists and turns over this thing, as one might imagine, from moments that recall King Diamond theatrics, to mystical sequences where fogs and mists meet, to reflective playing where you mind can relax, to bursts of noise and panic that shatter all illusions of calm. Later there is a heavy psyche wash, as the band keeps rambling forward, pounding away, and ending the thing with some serious guitar solo fire. Then the oddball arrives in “Paino,” an instrumental cut that sounds like what it might if there was such thing as an old-time metal saloon. The track drives pretty hard in spots, but in the place of meaty riffs come Sheie’s piano playing, and the band taking on the feel of an organic jam that’s preceding a whirlwind bar brawl. Pretty unexpected, and in a good way.
“Red Chaos” has charred riffs and bursts with speed from the start, with more thrashing thundering down and screams that fly by. The speed continues until the song goes quiet, teasing serenity until the track starts to chug again, with Scheidt going for the stratosphere with his singing and the pace absolutely shredding. The soloing scorches and torches until the song dies down and blows away. “Lightless Son” runs 8:18, letting loose with guitars smoldering and really great riffs spilling out. Scheidt’s vocals are gruff at first, with authoritative yells directed right at you, before he switches up and soars again. This is another one where the tempos are all over the place, jumping tracks and changing speeds right as you get used to the trip. There is plenty of crunch and devastation that pile on right up to its conclusion that bleeds out. Closer “The Tomb” is a real treat, a horror-filled tale that reminds of the King again, only this time just as much thematically. There are vicious growls, stomping drums, and chilling terror that could freeze your flesh. As the plot progresses, Scheidt wails in pain, “This can’t be real! How can it be?” as the band trudges the ground, exploding into smothering madness, and then suddenly being sucked into the stars, where noises and spacey zaps rip the thing into a black hole.
“Deeper Than Sky” is the record that seemed likely when this insane lineup was announced, and Vhöl are morphing into a pretty scary machine. The band relies on all of its parts and never rests on each individual’s history or background. Anything is possible in this sphere, and the longer Vhöl remain an active, breathing organism, the stranger, more violent this journey is likely to become.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/VhölisVhöl
To buy the album (CD), go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/
Or here (LP expected out in 2016): http://www.erodingwinds.com/
For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/