To say that the entire genre of stoner doom is boring, rote or derivative is obviously an overstatement, exaggeration and a downright offensive comment. But to say the genre capitalizes on the perceived laziness and general caricature of the “stoner” as a movie character (see Pineapple Express) might be closer to hitting the nail on the head. That’s why it’s exciting when a band like Vokonis ventures into the waters of psychedelia and takes a page or two out of the Elder playbook. The addition of dynamics, even if they are “lighter” than the previous approach, can balance the artistic output and make the final product actually feel heavier.
On prior efforts Vokonis have been decidedly one-note, using fuzzy riffs and harsh, shouting vocals to make their point. While that approach is still present, it’s now mixed in among a few elements that make Vokonis worthy of greater attention. There’s a balance here between their heavier sections (which feature very Baroness-styled vocals) and clean vocal sections, underlaid by floating guitar lines and hypnotically repetitive beats.
The longest track on Grasping Time, “Sunless Hymnal,” occupies nearly ten minutes of the album and serves as lighter follow-up to the opener, thus balancing not only the microcosm of the album’s beginning, but the macrocosm of the album as a whole. The composition also serves as the landmark, proving that Vokonis has become more engaged about their craft and taken their progression more seriously. To heap even more praise on this track, it’s also among the two best on the album (the aforementioned “Grasping Time” taking the other slot).
So why is “Sunless Hymnal” the best track on the album? For starters the hooks and clean vocals are the most ethereal and catchy. The guitars are similarly arresting in their layered melodies, which drift and glide playfully with each other breaking only to be accented by a heavier section of chorded riffs. “Sunless Hymnal” is a window into the future of Vokonis—as harsh vocals and mechanical stoner riffs give way to psychedelia and beautifully haunting vocals, the band has a clear vision of who they have the potential to be.
With Grasping Time Vokonis have adeptly pivoted from a run-of-the-mill stoner doom band into a much more complex beast full of psychedelic and traditional doom planted throughout. Now close to entering the fifth year of their existence, they are beginning to turn over all the right “new leaves” in their path, finding hidden melodies, more complex recording techniques and a revamped, improved sound. If Grasping Time is any indication, the band is now poised to plunge further down the path of their unknown becoming a more unique, diverse doom act existing outside the stoner realm and ready to share the stage with acts like Elder, Mastodon, Baroness and The Sword.
As a final more personal note, please don’t ask me what’s going on with that cover. As you can see from the Bandcamp link above there is a much better image that apparently wasn’t used for the cover. I assume everyone involved regrets the decision.