REVIEW: Vola – Witness

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It has been nearly 3 years since the Danish prog monolith, VOLA, released their astounding “Applause of a Distant Crowd.” It was an album that practically tore a hole in the space-time continuum with its unique blend of crushing and haunting, ”THE BEACH BOYS goes MESHUGGAH” kind of prog. Now, the alchemists are back, foraying deeper into the rabbit-hole with the release of a brand new album titled “Witness,” due out on May 21st, 2021, via Mascot Records. On this new outing, the band takes on a thematic approach that echoes the themes on their previous two albums in a spectacularly mind-bending way. The 2015 debut, “Inmazes,” dealt with our inner turmoil, whereas the 2018 follow-up was more about our relationship with each other, technology, and society. Now, things are coming full circle; We have been bearing witness to the fact that the world has not been in good health lately – not in any sense of the word. Our inner shadows have chased us to the edge, to the realization that the very foundation of our relationship with everything is cracking and crumbling at the faultlines. The soundtrack to this realization is comprised of angular, djent-like riffs, bittersweet pop hooks, and darkly shaded electronica that channels the pre-millennial tension of the mid-1990s trip-hop sound of artists such as PORTISHEAD, TRICKY, and MASSIVE ATTACK. Needless to say, “Witness” is not merely an awesome album – it is monumentally awesome, a truly haunting piece of work.

Last year, the band offered us the first taster for the album – the single, “Head Mounted Sideways.” It certainly got my hopes up with its convoluted ebb and flow of crushing riffs and beautifully ethereal vocal layers, AKA the trademark VOLA sound. In February 2021, the next single treat, “Straight Lines,” was released with a video, and I kind of knew I was going to fall in love with the album if the rest of the songs were anywhere near this good. Of all the djenty and ambient metal bands, these Danish proggers are among the very few that incorporate those lovely and diabolically catchy pop hooks in the songs with ease. The stunning chorus, ”running low on straight lines,” sticks to your head easily for days. I guess there must be something rotten in the state of Denmark, like Marcellus claimed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when debating whether or not to follow Hamlet and the ghost into the dark night. In a way, VOLA seems to share the love of progressive pop with its fellow countrymen such as MEW, VETO, and CARPARK NORTH in the indie scene. Maybe all these bands, in fact, did follow something into the dark and it really paid off.

Our true potential is not being realized, as we are beholden to our shadows, to the dark flame of our desires, obsessions, and lust for power. This is the message being said on “Witness” and while the music is largely layered with the tried-and-true VOLA elements, there is something out of the ordinary as well. “These Black Claws” features the electronic/hip-hop duo, SHAHMEN, which does a marvelous job of adding a distinguished evil vibe to the song. The suffocating heaviness of the machine drum beat and the distorted wall of guitars couldn’t possibly be more appropriate for a song about addiction. The feeling of being pushed through some damp, inner darkness as though standing toe-to-toe against one’s fate is something close to having ushered TRICKY and DEFTONES on a joint venture in the wonderland of a methamphetamine psychosis. By contrast, the album track titled “Freak” sounds like a DURAN DURAN ballad – with an ethereal, almost choral-like feel stemming from the ocean of reverb and myriad vocal layers. Okay, shut up and take my money already!

Always the master of the evocative, cinematic aesthetics, VOLA holds the listener close, barely a breath away. Although, like a genuine movie, their new album also allows you to be a detached observer while simultaneously getting enveloped in the narrative, like a reluctant visionary who has been given glimpses of a parallel universe – visions no one would prefer to see of humanity crackling at the edges, dissolving into the thin air like a pillow of dreams. The inner shadow, regardless of whether it is of the individual or the collective nature, is often the jet fuel of the art, the ghost in the dark night, or the white rabbit leading us deeper into the rabbit-hole. VOLA has certainly tapped into that vein and found the courage to fly with the corpses of our dreams littering the sky. “Witness” is the captivating flight log definitely worth reading for anyone who’s into fractal prog metal with a distinct pop edge.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Straight Lines
       
  2. Head Mounted Sideways
       
  3. 24 Light-Years
       
  4. These Black Claws (featuring Shahmen)
       
  5. Freak
       
  6. Napalm
       
  7. Future Bird
       
  8. Stone     Leader Falling Down
       
  9. Inside     Your Fur

Lineup

Asger Mygind – vocals, guitars

Martin Werner – keys

Nicolai Mogensen – bass

Adam Janzi – drums

Label

Mascot Label Group

Links

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