VOLA – Witness
I remember first seeing VOLA at Progpower Europe in 2015, opening the festival that year as a relatively unknown band on the Friday evening. Since then, the band haven’t sat still, having released and toured with their albums “Inmazes” and “Applause of a Distant Crowd” since then. During the Covid19 period the band recorded new music and in August 2020 they announced recording was finished on what we now know is their third studio album “Witness”, released on the 21st of May.
In interviews in 2020 singer and guitarist Asger Mygind already announced that the new album will be heavier than “Applause of a Distant Crowd”, and they’ve kept true to their word! Already during their first full album “Inmazes”, and before that on their EP “Monsters”, the band demonstrated that they enriched the progressive metal soundscape with a fresh sound that combined synthy poppy passages with prog and djenty grooves, and flowy multi layered vocal passages with deep growls that rival a band they’ve been known to draw inspiration from: Opeth. “Witness” shows us that they’ve not lost their edge, far from it.
VOLA – Straight Lines (click here if video does not play)
Mentioning in interviews that your next album is going to be heavier than what you’ve previously released sets some expectations. These expectations are brilliantly met head on with an opener like ‘Straight Lines’. Fading in with an almost Eurodance-like synth, it launches straight into a chunky rhythm. After that it doesn’t let up until after the first verse is done and the song goes into the first few lines of the chorus, which seem mellow at first. Until it repeats and turns into one of the most catchy, melodic chorus they’ve ever created. After the first two listens to this single they released as the second single off the album in February 2021, the listener will be unable to hear the song without at least singing along to the first two lines of the chorus. It is THAT catchy!
And the heaviness does not end there. ‘Head Mounted Sideways’ continues where ‘Straight Lines’ left the listener. After a short intro picks them up off the floor and puts the listener up against the wall with more heavy goodness. Drummer Adam Janzi has the skill to make intricate drum fills that require octopus-like agility sound like a stroll in the park, while the syncopated bass and rhythm guitars drive the song onwards. It feels like it’s not a VOLA production unless they bring out the Vocoder. The entire first verse is performed with a robotic voice, only going back to the normal melodic, layered vocals when the chorus hits. Mygind’s haunting way of singing, supported with again a catchy keyboard line, carries the chorus. Throughout the album, Martin Werner gets the chance to shine, often taking the lead in the melodies in the songs alongside lead guitar lines that stay more true to the djenty rhythm parts of the songs.
VOLA – Head Mounted Sideways (click here if video does not play)
Following the heavy-hitting first two songs on the album the band take a slight step back, allowing Janzi to come to the fore a bit more with his beloved stacks. Creating intricate patterns on the cymbals and snare, together with heady synth work, ’24 Light-Years’ flows almost mellow compared to the first two songs on the album. Even though in the second half of the song it picks up when the guitars hit home a bit more, it still feels more serene while still staying within the flow of the album.
VOLA blindsides us with ‘These Black Claws’ though. The song is a collaboration with hip-hop duo SHAHMEN, that consists of producer SENSE and rapper B L S. Starting out with an electronic hip-hop beat and twangy guitars, it launches into a heavier guitar driven stretch, only to go back to the starting beat and an almost minimalistic verse. The chorus seems to be a more classic VOLA chorus, but what follows is more surprising. We get treated to a rapped verse by B L S, whose style when I first heard it in this song reminded me of Geddy Lee in Roll the Bones. It is one of the surprises that VOLA gives us, but knowing all members contribute to the song-writing on their albums, fits right in with Adam Janzi’s seeming love for world music. Combining the two styles works and is another way VOLA stands out from the crowd.
VOLA – 24 Light-Years (click here if video does not play)
In ‘Freak’, the band takes another step back from the djenty violence and go back to their soundscaping ways. Crafting a beautiful ballad with an acoustic guitar sound heard throughout, bass somewhat turned back in the mix, beautiful keyboard with an almost glockenspiel tune playing the lead melody of the song. ‘Freak’ is like a babbling brook amongst the full force of nature that is “Witness” as a whole, and somehow VOLA has stuck the landing again on this one. It fits like a glove on its spot on the album.
With ‘Napalm’ we are back to a song that feels like a combination that would’ve fit in just fine in both “Inmazes” and “Applause from a Distant Crowd”. It uses the same bass-driven guitar lines, with Werner’s beautiful keyboard melodies guiding the vocal lines to where they need to go. Though the name might suggest this to be one of the heavier songs on the album, it is solidly in the middle when it comes to heaviness. You can hear the effort that has gone into this song though, with the multitude of layers of guitars, synths and vocals.
The same goes for ‘Future Bird’. It is one of those songs that would easily fit in anywhere in the back catalogue, but at the same time you can hear that the band progressed in their idea of what they should sound like. The production for ‘Future Bird’ is fuller and more balanced than they were in the previous albums though, and the vocals more mature and the whole mixed just right. Although the band has worked with big names before (for example Jens Bogren mastered “Inmazes”), this album was mixed and mastered by Danish mastermind Jacob Hansen. The quality of his work makes it that VOLA sounds amazing throughout the whole album.
VOLA – These Black Claws (Feat. SHAHMEN) (click here if video does not play)
The one song that unlike the other songs on this album, takes a step away from the limelight is ‘Stone Leader Falling Down’. In a sense it isn’t remarkable that an album that produces so many songs of top-notch quality also features songs that are less memorable, but after so many bangers you don’t expect it anymore. Even though this song is good in its own way, it does not transcend to the level that the rest of the album rises to and is in that regard slightly disappointing.
‘Inside Your Fur’ tries to pull the album back to the energy it had before, and with a chorus that once again leans heavily on Werner’s keyboards manages to wrest the album back to the high it was at before. After the last chorus rings, Janzi is allowed to go full ham once more on his drumkit while Mygind a-ha-ha’s the song to a close under the accompaniment of Martin Werner’s keyboards. Ending in a cut-off stylistic of, once again, Eurodance.
If you would have told me back in 2015 that these Danish youths shyly performing their asses off at a small international festival in the Netherlands would in less than 6 years’ time produce an album of this quality, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. However, the fact stands that VOLA has produced a style transcending album that is catchy, well produced, heavier than their previous productions, but still one of those albums that in a few years’ time you’ll still put on because it never gets tiring.
- Straight Lines 04:22
- Head Mounted Sideways 05:34
- 24 Light-Years 04:32
- These Black Claws (feat. SHAHMEN) 05:52
- Future Bird
- Stone Leader Falling Down
- Inside Your Fur