Prepare for trouble, and make it double, as JP and Nick are here to dissect the newest effort from one of Denmark’s finest, the one and only VOLA. This is one special group that is turning more and more heads with each passing day. Once VOLA‘s compelling way with music takes a hold of you, you’re locked in for good – there is no way around that. These four gentlemen have always been highly regarded for putting a fresh spin on progressive metal, and with the rollout of their awaited third album, Witness, it seems they are finally getting the widespread recognition they so deserve. Mark my words: you are about to witness (hehe) these guys drop one of the most infectious and soaring metal albums of the year.
JP: Hey Nick! Boy, do we have a fun conversation ahead of us 🙂
Nick: Hey, my man. I’ve been looking forward to this one!
JP: This’ll be my first time doing this type of review, and I honestly think we couldn’t have chosen a better group to kick this off with.
N: I absolutely concur, this is an album I’ve been hyping about for months already and I’m grateful that you managed to claim this one before anyone else got in there first haha! So tell me, how long have you been into VOLA?
JP: Same here, I’ve been foaming at the mouth over the past few years just waiting for something, anything from these guys. I stumbled upon them browsing reddit back sometime between the release of Inmazes and Applause of a Distant Crowd. “Your Mind is a Helpless Dreamer” was the first track I heard from these guys. From the very moment I heard the electronic-infused breakdown in that track, I knew I found something special. Ever since then, I’ve been head over heels for everything this band does because in reality, they can do no wrong.
N: I actually only discovered them much later in the game than you, I think it was probably around 2019. Applause had already been released, and I came across them after seeing an ad on facebook for the “Ghosts” music video.
Immediately I loved that distinctive synth hook, the hella catchy chorus, and the subtle proggy layers thrown in. At the time I thought it sounded as though Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson had started a new project aimed at reaching the Eurovision finals – I cannot stress just how much of a compliment that is from me. Of course, that track doesn’t show off their heavier side as much as their stuff and as a fairly avid consumer of all things with extended range guitars, I was pretty thrilled when I heard the rest of Applause, and Inmazes.
JP: Now that is a very interesting compliment and weirdly enough, it makes perfect sense. So that is what the fabled second Storm Corrosion album will sound like, colour me hyped!
Speaking of Applause and your mention of extended range guitars, on thing I find very interesting about that record is that, although the music overall is as warm and inviting as it is, it still utilizes those extended range guitars in such a refreshing way. You don’t need to be musically heavy to use extended range instruments – look at Little Tybee for example. It seems to be an unwritten law that you must write crazy heavy and technical songs and only use the lower register/range of the instrument, there is no exception. Yet here we have VOLA playing by their own rules and shaking things up.
N: Yeah, I’ve definitely picked up on that as well. I too find that prog metal bands often have a tendency to make their ideas and extremely complex and concentrated, which is absolutely fine when it’s done well, but what I love about VOLA is their sense of restraint in that regard. They pack in plenty of nasty off-beat riffs and intricate layers, sure, but they retain that visceral impact which I think often gets lost when something is overly complex and/or confusing, and they match their riff-writing prowess with some of the catchiest hooks and choruses I’ve ever heard in the genre at large. I did wonder how they would approach this concept on Witness.
One of the main differences I found between Inmazes and Applause was the moderate departure from the relatively technical metal ideas to a more, dare I say it, radio-friendly sound. I do not mean that to be disparaging in any way, because I’m a huge fan of both albums, and I never thought of Applause as being in any way inferior, but prior to the release of “Head Mounted Sideways”, I did have a slight concern that they would continue to move even further away from the heavier aspects that I loved after hearing their first album. Obviously, that track would silence any doubts I once had…
JP: Most definitely, “Head Mounted Sideways” was the best punch in the gut I could’ve received after the seemingly-endless wait for new material from them. As hard as that song goes, they really do have quite a knack for making breath-taking music all around, regardless of if it is heavy or not. I mean, look at the piano rendition of “24 Light-Years”, which VOLA‘s own Martin Werner arranged. These guys really can do everything.
I totally agree with what you’re saying on how their style of writing has a reserved nature to it. The artists that have a tendency to be musically reserved are much more likely to have an impact on me. As you spoke about the drastic shift in sound between their past two records, the one thing that stayed consistent was the musical quality, without a doubt. After their slight shift in direction with Applause, I too was skeptical about where they’d go next, like you and most fans I’m sure.
Now that new music from VOLA is no longer a dream but an upcoming reality in the form of Witness, we have all these different yet equally stellar singles that have been released thus far. What are your thoughts on the singles so far?
N: Honestly I was blown away by each and every one of them, and that’s not a phrase I throw around lightly. From the opening couple syncopation on “Head Mounted Sideways” I was already sold. But when you throw in such a huge and gorgeous chorus, and the dirtiest breakdown I’ve heard in recent times? Well, it set my expectations for the album at an astronomical high.
My feelings towards “Straight Lines” were pretty similar, it’s a massively euphoric track that captures everything I’ve already described that I love about VOLA. “24 Light-Years” did take a little longer to gel for me I will admit, obviously it’s not got the same weight of the aforementioned two, and it’s got a much slower build to it, so it demands a greater degree of commitment to truly appreciate it. But after several weeks of listening to all the singles and really getting invested in them all, I think they set a marvellous template for the album to follow, and the latter track has grown on me phenomenally.
Ask me again in a year or so and my answer might be different with the benefit of hindsight, but at the time of their release, I had no doubt in my mind that these singles were the most accomplished in their discography so far. So yeah, I kinda liked them. How about you?
JP: You and I are basically the same person when it comes to the perception of these new tracks, as I was too awestruck with how variable and stellar all these tracks are. Although they’ve already released nearly half of the album at this point, these singles are all so vastly different from one another in the best of ways. “24 Light-Years” also didn’t drag me in at first but that track definitely aged like a fine wine as now, I am fully head over heels for it. The mind boggling-percussion and fluttering electronics really elevate that song to another level.
I’ll be honest I wasn’t particularly crazy about the band releasing nearly half the album as singles as I am a full album kinda guy. Y’know, times are changing, and VOLA are taking full advantage of the buzz that singles generate, so I cannot knock them for doing what is best for them. They really couldn’t have promoted Witness any better with this jaw-dropping collection of singles. Mark my words, Witness is going to be the album that gets VOLA the recognition they deserve. What were your thoughts on “These Black Claws”? I personally adore the track. This was one song I was very skeptical about how it would turn out but all my doubts were washed away not ten seconds into the song.
N: “These Black Claws” is actually one of my highlights of the whole album – on an album that is about 90% highlight for me! The backing beat by Shahmen is a solid hip hop beat in its own right, and I think it compliments vocalist Asger Mygind’s gliding falsetto perfectly. It’s a little eerie and sinister, and tonally I think this feeds really well into the huge choruses and breakdown sections. Similarly, BLS‘s deep, sonorous voice feels right at home on a track that is definitely one of the darker moments on the album.
Broadly speaking, I’m pretty astounded by how they’ve maintained the quality of those first four singles across the whole album. There are so many great and original moments that I was regularly surprised by how consistent it is. Whether it’s the Flaming Lips-esque dreaminess of “Freak” or the shameless alt/nu-metal worship of “Stone Leader Falling Down”, I feel like there are no missteps across the album’s nine tracks.
JP: Each song definitely has plenty to offer, there is no disputing that. I do think the album is just a bit top-loaded, as the singles do seem to be the strongest and more ambitious tracks of the bunch. The four singles are where VOLA venture into new territory and make a killing doing so. The remaining five songs seem to be the more traditional tracks that got us to love this band in the first place. But as you said, there is not a single misstep whatsoever on Witness. It is consistently stellar. Infectious choruses, gnarly riffs, and luscious soundscapes for days on this thing.
N: I think they got the album length pretty much spot on as well. There is a really nice balance of tracks that are more familiar to fans of old and tracks that push the envelope a bit more. Everything on the album is there on merit and clearly there’s nothing there to simply pad out the runtime either, it’s a nice balance of singles and deep cuts. All killer, no filler as they say!
JP: Reflecting back on their previous records, Witness strikes a perfect balance between the gritty, mind-melting riffs and groove that we’ve grown to love on Inmazes as well as the dreamy, luscious atmosphere and highly-textured passages as heard on Applause.
For those that want those chunky riffs with that ‘robotic’ guitar tone that drew you to VOLA in the first place, you’ll most certainly get your fill with tracks like “Napalm”, “Future Bird”, and “Stone Leader Falling Down”. The outro to “Future Bird” is one of my favourite moments on the record with its incredibly blissful and emotive riff at the forefront and the ethereal, airy vocals laying me down gently. This would’ve been another fantastic candidate for a closing track in addition to “Inside Your Fur”.
N: Absolutely. I’m someone that has a lot of love and respect for both of their previous albums, almost in equal measure, so on that basis I don’t think Witness could have been anything better than what it is contextually, a perfect marriage of those two focal points in their progression.
When I came into this review I was, rather dangerously, expecting this album to be one of my favourite releases of the year. Thankfully, it has proven to be just that for me, and certainly as far as prog metal goes, it will take quite some beating.
JP: Most definitely, this is the sound and album that VOLA was destined to make. I honestly think Witness would have been perfect as a self-titled album as well. It really has a little bit of everything that drew us to this band in the first place and then some. This is VOLA. I cannot even begin to fathom what heights they will scale on their future material. Whatever they do, I am fully confident that they will most certainly deliver. There are few artists I have that level of undying confidence in.