Deeper Than Sky

In VHÖL’s creative sphere anything goes, and the lack of stylistic boundaries is what makes this band so electrifying. VHÖL are comprised of a number of West Coast underground metal veterans, some of whom have previously played together: guitarist John Cobbett and drummer Aesop Dekker were in the much-missed post-black metal act Ludicra, while Cobbett and VHÖL bassist Sigrid Sheie (also of Amber Asylum) are in the hugely underrated prog metal band Hammers of Misfortune. In addition, VHÖL vocalist and YOB visionary Mike Scheidt has been known to jam with numerous musicians in either a guest role (Red Fang, Dark Castle) or as an integral part of a studio project (Lumbar). Therefore, through their past experiences, these four individuals know exactly what it takes to turn a musical collaboration into a complete artistic success.

VHÖL’s 2013 self-titled debut was an unrelenting black metal/hardcore/thrash/prog fusion where bizarre arrangements, countless tempo shifts, a unique vocal performance, and tonnes of synapses-splitting riffs and rhythms collided. VHÖL’s second album, the multi-dimensional Deeper Than Sky, is even more ambitious in terms of its progressive instrumentation, atypical song structures, and its use of melody in the context of an extreme metal album. One criticism of VHÖL’s debut was that its sheer relentlessness made the album blur together as a whole, with very few individual standout moments. This is not the case on Deeper Than Sky, as each of its seven songs stand out; an impression furthered by the band flashing their punk origins on ‘3AM’, albeit with high levels of technicality, and moving into free jazz via extreme metal on the classical-contemporary instrumental ‘Paino’ – an impressive rhythmic workout driven by bass, drums, and a piano used as a percussive instrument. Yet, much like their debut, this album still flows as a singular piece of music.

Deeper Than Sky is distinct from VHÖL’s first full-length in other ways. Most noticeably, the production goes in the opposite direction: the album sounds sharp and is dynamically balanced so that each instrument can be heard more clearly. While the black metal aspects of VHÖL, although not dominant by any means, have been reduced in favour of a greater reliance on progressive thrash metal, à la Coroner and Voivod. The dexterous, melodic and aggressive playing of Cobbett, easily one of the most underrated guitarists in modern metal, combined with the propulsive engine of Dekker and Sheie, takes thrash metal stratospheric on ‘The Desolate Damned’, ‘Lightless Sun’ and the labyrinthine title track. The intensity of these futuristic songs is not diminished, however, by the vibrancy of the prog metal flourishes (Cobbett’s alien pysch touches and triumphal soloing) and Scheidt’s schizophrenic vocals.

Scheidt, a master doom guitarist in his own right, seems to be having the time of his life as vocalist on Deeper Than Sky. He has clearly relished the chance to layer his piercing falsetto over hyper-speed music and explore quirky, Pattonesque phrasing throughout, while his screeching and growling on the disembodied Slayerisms of ‘Red Chaos’ works brilliantly with the deep space imagery of the lyrics ("Red chaos/Skies in flames"), not to mention the cerebral sci-fi artwork courtesy of the talented Brandon Duncan. It’s the kind of idiosyncratic vocal performance that has rarely been heard on a metal album since Mike Patton joined forces with The Dillinger Escape Plan for the Irony Is A Dead Scene EP back in 2002.

As alluded to, speed remains a huge part of VHÖL’s sound; Dekker’s volatile drumming is almost constantly aimed skyward, searching the cosmos. But speed is beautifully tempered by some truly enveloping passages when the band decrease the tempo and allow the counterpoint playing of Sheie and Cobbett to shine, as heard during the Mastodonian middle-section of ‘Deeper Than Sky’. Unlike other supergroups, a tag Cobbett has recently expressed dissatisfaction with, VHÖL’s members display selflessness during such songs: a dedication to ensuring their music, while drawn from individual talents, does not become definable by the sum of its parts. Deeper Than Sky is aggressively progressive because of this approach: punk rock in its non-conformity, technically astounding in its execution. It’s a mind-bending metal album that casts the gaze of its extraterrestrial eye towards an unknown galaxy far away.

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