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Vhol - "Vhol" (CD)

Vhol - "Vhol" CD cover image

"Vhol" track listing:

1. The Wall (6:39)
2. Insane with Faith (5:17)
3. Plastic Shaman (5:48)
4. Grace (6:01)
5. Illuminate (7:44)
6. Arising (6:13)
7. Songs Set to Await Forever (8:25)

Reviewed by on April 30, 2013

"Take Vhol as its own entity, separate from any association the musicians have with other projects, and prepare for the best album to come out so far this year."

Vhol was widely publicized before one note of music came out. Metal fans with proper underground knowledge clamored for the reunion of half of Ludicra, guitarist John Cobbett and drummer Aesop Dekker, plus the inclusion of Yob vocalist Mike Scheidt. Add in current Hammers of Misfortune bassist Sigrid Sheie to complete the band, and Vhol’s eventual debut already had a heightened air of anticipation. The self-titled affair is not Ludicra part two, nor is it Agalloch meets Yob, nor is it Hammers of Misfortune gone down the black metal route. Vhol is unlike what many assume it to be, and that was the best decision the band could have possibly made.

It wouldn’t have been outrageous if the band did try any number of combinations featuring its members' extensive past and present projects. That probably would have resulted in a rousing side-project, yet would fade away with hardly a struggle. Vhol refuses to be regaled to a throwaway title of a side-project, giving each of the four members fertile ground to explore new musical surroundings. The basis of their music is crusty black metal, but that’s just the thin coat of icing on top of a five-layer cake of metal decadence.

In the same way that Shrinebuilder brought the best talent together to flourish in their own style, Vhol succeeds as a group because of the tangible chemistry shared between them. This is a cohesive effort, not the result of a forced alliance or jumbled tracks sent from each member spread out across the world. These songs have the appearance of being recorded live in the rehearsal studio, four friends grilling each other and striving for the best that they can provide. The term “super group” will inevitably be spread throughout the metal community, but Vhol can stand alongside their other groups without the stench sometimes associated with being a side-project.

Though the songs have a punky attitude rolling through them, notably on “Arising,” the lengths are much more involved. No song stops at the five-minute mark, allowing space for the band to experiment and flesh out their superior musicianship. Each member has choice moments, though the stand-out might be Sheie. She may not have the notoriety of her other band mates, but that doesn’t hinder the fuzzy, rich textures she incorporates into the music. Whether it’s following along with Dekker’s manic rhythms or Cobbett’s classic metal leads, Sheie is a top performer.

“Grace” was one of the first songs released by the band, and its six minutes of joyful mayhem is a good clue what to expect from Vhol’s debut. “Insane With Faith” and “Plastic Shaman” border on psychotic with their winding riffs and tonal wreckage. Though the band spends much of the album in a state of dissonance, there isn’t much monotonous about this album. The rough production suits the band and makes the album feel even more like a live-in-the-studio type of deal.

The depths of Vhol’s musical aptitude are bottomless, as it’s not enough for them to be maniacal demons. “The Wall” has a proggy instrumental beginning that takes up half of its almost-seven minutes, “Illuminate” squeezes an uneasy break of haunting echoing notes, and “Songs Set to Await Forever” cleans up the mess of the previous 40 minutes with soaring high notes from Scheidt and a well-tempered outro that fades out in creepy fashion.

Vhol’s eponymous record is loaded with consistent quality in songwriting and musicianship. There’s not much to hate about this album, especially if you enjoy any of the musicians involved. This isn’t as accessible as Hammers of Misfortune, or even Ludicra to some extent, though it’s not as daunting as Agalloch or Yob. Take Vhol as its own entity, separate from any association the musicians have with other projects, and prepare for the best album to come out so far this year.

Highs: The best gathering of well-known musicians since Shrinebuilder, black metal with a lot of layers, never short on surprises, each member has their chance to shine

Lows: Production may be a bit too rough for some.

Bottom line: A stellar debut from a group of talented musicians who take black metal and turn it on its head.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)