VHOL‘s debut is less than a month old, yet the fields already seem armpit-high with glowing reviews from critics and fans alike. It’s admittedly pretty tough not to have an itchy finger on the happy trigger when the pedigree behind a project drops names such as Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra, YOB, Agalloch, Worm Ouroboros and Amber Asylum, but all things considered, couldn’t these guys release an hour’s worth of drunk monkeys hammering on buckets with their peters and still end up with a packed house of folks dying to be atingle? Hell, even if you’ve somehow managed to dislike all of the output produced from the above-mentioned bands, the members themselves have become known throughout many circles as some of the most approachable people in the scene today, so maybe they do have an unfair advantage just by walking into a room as a unified squad.
As it turns out, however, the hoopla is quite warranted – the VHOL debut pretty much slams it home from start to finish, proving once again that some people seem meant to join forces for the benefit of kicking the shit out of the public. Or as far as this write-up’s concerned, in order to execute heavy metal as a weapon in the defense of Arus against the dreaded King Zarkon. But where the hell’s Pidge? Or perhaps more importantly, WHO the hell is Pidge? Tough to deliver that decisive blow without that crucial left arm, milady and gents. Someone bribe Scalzi with some vintage Star Frontiers die-casts and get him fitted for a green jumper and some little round glasses.
Mechanized lion jokes aside, can we all agree to reserve the term ‘Supergroup’ for the day when we actually find a band populated by Superman, Apache Chief, Samurai and Firestorm? Yes, it’s super that they’re all old friends who’ve banded together to shotgun metal into our faces, but until someone actually witnesses Aesop belting out “Kaze no Yo… ni Hayaku!” and suddenly tornado-ing his way through a billion fills, let’s just quietly refer to this as West Coast Metal performed by veterans of the scene and shuffle on.
And as long as we’re on the subject, the ‘veteran’ element is another thing that makes VHOL notably rewarding, particularly for a salty old dog such as myself. I can tell you from personal experience that being an active member of the metal scene in your mid-to-late 30s/early 40s is a pretty strange trip. You’re old enough to remember buying Bonded By Blood as a new release LP (and people are probably sick to death of hearing about it), but you’re still not quite to the point where the youngsters exalt you just for having balls enough to cover an increasingly graying pate with a sweet Disma lid.
As far as the members of VHOL are concerned, there’s still hell & half-an-acre’s worth of fire left in the tank, but at this point they’ve all been in the game long enough that they probably couldn’t give a teensier shit about producing a conventional, bankable modern extreme metal album that appeals to a giant market. Yes, that’s obviously possible with younger bands, but one cannot exaggerate enough the benefit that an abundance of life’s harsh realities, combined with years of colliding with every genre imaginable can bring to the table for a collection of musicians such as this.
Take “Insane with Faith”, for example. Hey, let’s have a tune that thoroughly explodes in your face with a kickoff that flails like a boiling demon, then give it a lively & infectious punk scoot at the 1:00 mark that eventually gets peppered with some glassy Matheos/Awaken the Guardian-styled lead breaks. Sure, why not.
And “Arising”? Here’s a song that jumps at your throat like a freshly ignited reinterpretation of Diamond Head filtered through Raw Power by way of Garage Days Re-Re-Revisited & Thoroughly Banged. Whuh-wha??
The overall mood of the record flexes an exceptionally brisk and belligerent charge that most closely resembles the black-ish metal stance that two of the VHOL members shared under the Ludicra banner. And similar to those lauded albums of yesteryear, the material here is turbulent, and at times considerably heavy, but also regularly nailed to a foundation of intrinsic happiness, thanks largely to John Cobbett’s fiery, yet melodic playing style.
Drummer Aesop Dekker and bassist Sigrid Sheie convey the bulk of the pervading heaviness, and both get ample opportunity to shine. Put plainly, I don’t recall Dekker ever sounding so pissed, and Sheie offers up a bass player’s wet dream of heavy, rolling break-outs on countless occasions. (The album’s blanketing bass tone is just sick.)
And Mike Scheidt puts the superlative period on the end of the sentence by offering up a wealth of gruffly barked, scraped and hollered vocals to fit the abundance of VHOL‘s assorted moods, but he really shines once he’s afforded an opportunity to actually croon alongside the album’s gloomiest excursion, closer “Set to Await Forever”.
So hell yes, there’s good reason you’ve already been engulfed by a wealth of favorable press connected to this debut. It’s an unpredictable ball of bristling energy that encompasses a lifetime of influences from multiple angles, and it manages to deliver it all evenly enough across the board to make the end result sound altogether innovative – something that’s increasingly rare in our game today.
Dynotherms connected, indeed.