It’s so satisfying when a record reveals ever more layers of remarkable traits after repeated listens. The latest release from the Pacific Northwest-based quartet VHÖL, “Deeper Than Sky,” is just such a beast – and this is a record that will demand repeated listens. From the circle pit-worthy crust punk gallops to the sharp and beautiful black metal sections; from the way that Mike Scheidt’s singular metal-operatic yowls and shouty growls carve out their own space next to the intricate and mighty thrash guitar twisters created by John Cobbett, this second record by VHÖL is very likely going to be record of the year for many.
Each member of this band has such an impressive musical resume that it’s tempting to label them a supergroup, an all-star team, which VHÖL is, but that emphasizes the players – Mike Scheidt (Yob) on vocals, John Cobbett (Hammers Of Misfortune, Ludicra) on guitar, Sigrid Sheie (Hammers Of Misfortune, Amber Asylum) on bass & piano, and Aesop Dekker (Ludicra, Agalloch) on drums – instead of the music, which will work its way into the inner recesses of your consciousness, very deep, very quickly.
Each tune is a tour-de-force. Crusty thrash guitars tempered with a “Four Horsemen” of double-bass thunder through hard and sweaty, while overdriven vocal layers of Scheidt seduce and tempt on the opening track, “The Desolate Damned.” The vocals are pushed aside by Cobbett’s rollicking thrash guitars, taking dueling solos to a build which restates the main thrash riff, inciting a circle-pit for sure – giving way to a fantastic rock breakdown to take it home.
There are some straight-up hardcore, crusty thrash sections in “3AM.” Similarly, the title track flows smoothly (if such a thing is possible!) into more Rob Halford-like singy vocals from Scheidt. Again the contrasting sections of thrash and classic metals make for much excitement upon repeated listens. Transitions are carefully considered and the sections of these songs are so tight and lean.
This title track is one of the more satisfying epics in recent years. The standout way that Dekker matches the punches in “Deeper than the Sky” sets up a bridge of swirling psychedelia—without losing intensity–which flows into a beautiful vocal section that circles back around to powerfully bass-driven dense swirls of guitars and voices. Just as the assault might be over, nope! It was merely the eye of the storm, and the onslaught resumes, with an even more punishing blitzkrieg of thrash guitars and Scheidt’s low roar.
Perfectly splitting the record in two is a most surprising and thrilling punk-thrash piano interlude “Paino,” written by Cobbett, on which bass player and adjunct keyboard professor Sigrid Sheie gets to showcase her immense keyboard talents. Cobbett handles bass guitar duties on the tune. The rawness returns with the absolute pummeling burner of a track, “Red Chaos,” which made this drummer/reviewer seethe with jealousy at the technicality on the accelerating double-bass drum runs. When contacted for confirmation, Aesop said that playing “bass drums on Red Chaos was a killer.” But no triggers. Scheidt’s vocal shriek over this ferocious show of speed rivals only “Angel of Death.” For contrast, there are some lovely spacious psych episodes during this tune which might be akin to hiding under a tree in a thunderstorm.The closing track, “The Tomb” has some wonderful panning effects in its mix which makes for some disorientation, in a good way.
Notice that I skipped the sixth tune – “Lightless Sun.” It’s because it deserves such honors: I swear to you that this tune has the ideal combinations of space – the long legato phrases of guitars and vocals- and RIFFS. I love the way that certain melodies are stated, and then return again.
OKAY. Full confession. I cannot stop listening to, and singing under my breath, the absolutely anthemic “Lightless Sun,” whether it’s trying to match Scheidt, or twisting my little drummer-brain into knots trying to work out the count on the very first triplet-driven riff. Righteous blasts anchor a nearly symphonic but not pretentiously laid-out opening section of the tune and the feel almost treads into party black metal territory with the straight-up back beat “rock section” (with tambourine!?) and belch-like shouty-growl vocals. The layers of organic Mike Scheidt and processed Mike Scheidt, with the Thin Lizzy guitar duel are a thing of beauty. As a musical nerd and compositional analyst I love the way that the opening theme works its way back into the middle section. First with a hint, then a complete reprise. The tremolo guitar line at the end, which directly hammers home the vocals from Scheidt is simply triumphant.
Do I get to give it numbers? Well. 10 of 10. RUN and get this NOW.