I’m typically drawn to “kitchen sink” bands. This is of course assuming that an intoxicating concoction of styles is achieved. From what little I’ve heard of Loch Vostok’s career – mainly, their 2011 album Dystopium – they’ve gotten things mostly right so far. Despite embarrassingly blunt politically and socially charged lyrics that dish out some truly next-level cringe, that album’s even blending of melodeath, prog, and power metal was good enough to impress our notoriously stingy overlord. Strife is the seventh full-length effort from these Swedes, and with the same line-up being held over from Dystopium (which includes members from bands as diverse as Wuthering Heights and Nightrage), I expected something similarly solid. What I got instead was a depressing, monotonous slog, with a generous helping of djent on the side.
I wouldn’t call Loch Vostok’s 2017 incarnation a straight-up djent band, though. All of the band’s previously established components still receive varying degrees of play: complex rhythmic shake-ups, stabs at “anthemic” power metal choruses, and brief rushes of melodeath speed are all a part of Strife’s playbook. Most tracks manage to pull off a few measures that grab my attention, be it “Summer’s” mystical, Skyfire-esque keyboard work or the bittersweet vocal melodies in the verse of “Consumer,” and on a whole the musicianship is competent enough to handle the record’s most complex passages with fluidity. This all resulted in a first impression that interpreted Strife as an average, inoffensive album, slightly bolstered by its technicality.
I still maintain a few listens later that many aspects of Strife are run-of-the-mill, but boy, further saturation of this album has made certain areas extremely off-putting, souring the experience as a whole. Melodically speaking, it’s totally barren; there are enough decent melodies throughout to amount to an entire handful, but there isn’t anything which comes close to resembling a proper hook. The vocal lines are universally so stilted and awkward as to feel like failed experiments in creating something unconventional yet pop-oriented. Just listen to the 1:45 mark of the embedded track below; this is as catchy as the vocal performances ever get, which is bad news bears for an album built around accessible clean singing performances. It doesn’t help that the lyrics and general atmosphere are a complete fucking downer. I don’t expect chipper Euro-power levels of fluffery, but the painfully on-the-nose lyrics about pervasive political corruption kill any sense of joy I derive from the somewhat adventurous prog rhythms.
Teddy Möller’s singing is the final nail in the coffin to the flaccid vocal melodies. I guess I appreciate that he isn’t singing about how “retarded” creationism is on this outing1, but the trade-off is that his voice has taken a serious turn for the worse since then, and it now sounds like he’s hitting each note with about half his former power; he sounds, quite frankly, exhausted. Just as lethargic are the rhythm guitar parts which, while not strictly bad, too often revert to playing open notes on what might as well be a one-string djent guitar, and never display so much as a hint of ingenuity during the melodeath sections. Strife’s progressive grooves are the only components of its sound that escape the black hole of pessimism and derivative riffage, but even when an intriguing turn of time signatures manages to spark my attention, it’s fizzled by the mind-numbingly bland vocal work. Production-wise, there isn’t much to speak of, as Loch Vostok has opted for a generically modern, synthetic sound that’s in line with most current melodeath releases.
With the end of the year fast approaching and most of the AMG staff already forming tentative best-of lists, it takes something special to cause a last-minute shake-up against albums we’ve digested all year. Strife wouldn’t have made any sort of lasting impression whether it had been the first or the hundredth new album I’d listened to in 2017. Loch Vostok’s instrumentation can’t really be called terrible so much as uninspired, but the bland performances combined with empty melodies and poor vocals make for a record that’s thoroughly boring and, at times, just plain painful to listen to, no matter how many genres the band touches. I don’t really understand what the point of this endeavor was, unless it was to make a record that sounds as dreary as its subject matter. If that’s the case, Loch Vostok nailed it.