VHOL
Deeper Than Sky

The veteran collective of assorted talents comprising the band VHOL cooked up an impressive self-titled debut in 2013. However, like any band assembled in this fashion there was always a hint of uncertainty about whether it would wind up as another short lived entity as the members returned to their main projects, or remain the real deal with a steady release schedule. Fortunately with these feisty vets the latter appears to apply and hence we‘re treated to a sophomore album a mere standard two years later. As much as I enjoyed the debut, a potent melting pot of mutating styles delivered like an adrenaline shot directly into the veins, it seemed like just a taste of greater things to come. Unsurprisingly given time together to develop their ideas and song-writing, not to mention their respective past/present membership of such lauded artists as YOB, Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra and Agalloch, VHOL’s Deeper Than Sky is a resounding triumph and inspired extension of the promising debut.

Deeper Than Sky features some of the trademarks that made the self titled platter such an unexpected joy to the senses, while boldly spearing forward into a whole other level of metal excellence and near perfection. VHOL pull off the rare double act of concocting a sound that is endearingly old school and traditional in values, yet somehow cutting edge and forward thinking at the same time. Thrash and speed metal reign supreme, lending the album much of its relentless and intoxicating energy. In the end Deeper Than Sky comes across like some retro metal treasure beamed from an advanced dimension and crafted by the hands of ultra talented professionals on a seriously productive creative bender.

John Cobbett’s immense talents are on display throughout as he delivers a dazzling clinic of guitar fireworks. He pays tribute to the past while forging ahead with his own distinct brand of guitar theatrics, incorporating elements of thrash, prog, punk, black metal and zany psychedelia into the brew. Aside from his more experimental noodling and out-of-the-box moments, Cobbett keeps things grounded by honing his focus on the art of the metal riff and Deeper Than Sky comes chock full of memorable riffs and mesmerizing leads.  Not to be outdone, Sigrid Sheie (bass) and Aesop Dekker (drums) lock down a mighty rhythmic foundation, with the latter delivering a particularly energized and phenomenal performance. And then of course you have the wildly unique vocals of Mike Scheidt producing the most versatile, wide ranging performance of his career.

Deeper Than Sky comprises seven tracks in a perfectly concise and replayable 42-minute run time. And with just how addictive and furiously fast and inventive the material is, multiple listens are irresistible. “The Desolate Damned” is as fitting an album opener as one could hope for, not just bursting through the gate but ripping it off its hinges with a flurry of infectious riffs, blazing tempos and Cobbett’s out of this world soloing. While quality riffs and sheer speed are two of Deeper Than Sky’s more obvious and powerful attributes, there’s a surprising degree of song-writing depth, emotion and variety embedded into the album. “3AM” careens ahead with vibrant punk energy and spacious melodies, bookended by Scheidt’s wonderfully diverse vocals. While instrumental “Paino” is a short and delightfully oddball piece that showcases VHOL’s stellar musicianship in a strange piano-led jazz frenzy full of urgent rhythms and head-bobbing groove.

Arguably the album highlight is the epic title track; a multifaceted journey that wedges a gorgeous psych-dirge mid-section between potent bursts of thrashing speed and ripping guitar action. The 12-minute journey is gripping from start to finish, sparkling like a river of liquid silver flowing beneath a stormy red sky. Meanwhile the last couple of tunes rounding out the album take a darker turn, bringing the blackened elements and intense wall-of-sound approach of the debut and welding them into ambitious and dynamic song structures. The production on Deeper Than Sky is spot-on as well, boasting a clean and punchy sound, that’s devoid of flashy embellishments and lends the album an uncluttered organic crunch within a well organized mix.

VHOL have delivered in spades here and finding faults with this exceptional album is very difficult. It’s loaded with infectious energy, spectacular guitar work and enough surreal moments and unexpected twists to keep the listener hooked. The song-writing is superb and the tightly constructed songs are simultaneously aggressive and catchy, dynamic and emotive, but perhaps most of all just a sheer blast to listen to. Don’t pass on one of 2015’s finest albums.

 

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Luke Saunders
October 20th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: Gulliame

    Great review! I just DL’d this from Amazon because the debut was so fucking good.


  2. Commented by: Luke_22

    Thanks. Yeah the debut was great but this is on a whole other level imo.


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