Review Summary: Vhol tone down the rawness to refine everything else.
Supergroups are always seen with a suspicious first look, which more often than not gives way for a much stronger sense of curiosity. This is the case for Vhol, a band that features members of Agalloch, Hammer of Misfortune and YOB. Specifically, the band can vaunt YOB's Mike Scheidt on vocal duties, Hammers of Misfortunes' John Cobbett and Sigrid Sheie respectively on guitar and bass, and Agalloch's Aesop Dekker behind the drum kit (Cobbet and Dekker were also in Ludicra). Known for their blend of black metal and hardcore with progressive leanings presented on 2013's eponymous debut, the band's approach gets tweaked for its follow-up.
It would be wrong to say that Deeper Than Sky
doesn't sound like Vhol. Still, the band's focus has definitely shifted a bit. It is possible to get a clear image of how things changed just by observing the differences between the cover artworks. Even though both show a similar theme, the self titled's black and white palette and clean shapes are in contrast with the colorful, twisted view of Deeper Than Sky
. This translates in a few things: a partial letup on the rawness, a clear and polished production, and a bigger accentuation on progressive structures.
Banner of the album is the 12 minutes long title track, the band's longer song as of now. From furious sections with a pounding rhythm section to relaxed ones driven by clean vocal melodies and psychedelic touches, all with the sustain of tasty guitar playing that alternates serried riffing and tasteful leads, the title track has it all. For the remaining half a hour of Deeper Than Sky
, Vhol do not forget any of their influences and go through each of them. For example "3AM" is a hardcore punk number that displays Vhol at their most straightforward, while "Red Chaos" is reminiscent of the debut album and may remind the listener of Slayer's "Angel of Death" in its beginning.
There is also time for a couple detours along the way. The opening track "The Desolate Damned" is the closer the band ever got to a classic speed metal feel, and its fully clean melodic vocals may worry the fans of the debut album, especially considering that "3AM" comes right after. Another interesting track is "Paino", a 2 and a half minutes long instrumental piece that revolves around spry piano melodies, bass lines and drumming. The bass playing definitely deserves a special mention, for it is ever present and incisive throughout most of the album (the intro to "3AM" should be another great example).
Fans of the band should not worry that much. The album may take a while to get into, but it is worth the wait and songs like "Lightless Sun" and "The Tomb" should not disappoint enthusiasts of the debut who are in search for the band's black metal influence. Suitable is also the album's length, relatively short and completely devoid of filler. It feels strange to say that Vhol maturated with this album, because the debut clearly had a different aim and worked great anyway. But they did not take a step back. That is for sure. In the worst case scenario, Deeper Than Sky
is arguably the best transitional album the band could have recorded.