AMG recently dropped this album by Poland’s Votum in my promo bin with a snarky remark about how I love “sadboy doom-prog.” Naturally, I denied it and retorted with a series of choice names, but when the time came to actually sit down and listen to :KTONIK:, Votum‘s fourth full-length, I was forced to admit I did love the sadboy post-rock prog metal being laid down. And how can you not love dark, moody and introspective music borrowing heavily from Anathema, Ghost Brigade and A Swarm of the Sun? That’s right, you can’t! Blameless and with head held high, I accept the mantle of sadboy prog lover, but with the caveat that it has to be done right, and for the most part that’s just how Votum does it. :KTONIK: isn’t a perfect album but it’s one rich in emotion and mood – cathartic to the wounded and impactful to the empathetic. Enough so that I’m willing to forego my shallow nature and look past that Atari 2600 album cover to find the true beauty within.
Votum wastes no time hooking the listener with opener “Satellite” – a strong contender for Song o’ the Year. It’s a brooding, bleak but accessible union of Anathema, Katatonia and depressive alt-rock and when the ginormous, super-catchy chorus hits, singer Bartosz Sobieraj blows the roof off the house with a killer performance. It’s the kind of song you replay before it’s half over because it’s THAT good! The balance between melodic singing and heavy, almost djenty riffs is near perfect and discordant guitar effects provide a Tool-ish vibe to keep things extra dark. Follow up “Greed” begins as a very Weather Systems sounding song before plunging into much heavier, Ghost Brigade-esque realms of glumness as Sobieraj adopts a throaty, bellowing vocal style to fit the doomy sound. It works really well and by this point I found myself wondering who the hell these guys were and why I wasn’t already aware of them.
The curse of opening an album with a huge one-two punch is the pressure to follow it with equally captivating material. Votum struggles a bit here, with the songs taking a noticeable drop by the album mid-point. “Blackened Tree” and “Simulacra” are decent, but not up to the level of the opener and require a few listens to really take hold. The album recovers quickly with “Prometheus” which is a highly effective, engagingly dark ballad, and Sobieraj vocals are beautiful, fragile and touching. Sometimes he sounds like a near suicidal Eddie Vedder if you can imagine that, and it’s tough to avoid getting caught up in the song’s dark emotions. “Horizontal” and “Vertical” both offer rich, gloomy soundscapes with big payoffs at chorus time, with the latter having a strong Fall of the Leafe vibe I love muchly.
What makes :KTONIK: such an interesting listen is how many bands they remind you of without mimicking any one act. Aside from the aforementioned influences, the careful listener might pick out hints of Agalloch, Solstafir and Only Living Witness, and most oddly, a strong grunge undercurrent (Bush flashed through my mind on several occasions). Most importantly, it’s the first album to ever remind me of Another Messiah‘s awesome Dark Dreams, My Child album.
Sobieraj is the lynch-pin of the material’s success and his multi-faceted, emotional performance makes the songs pop. He wasn’t around when AMG reviewed their Metafiction album back in 2010 and the man definitely elevates the band to the next level. The closest reference point is Manne Ikonen from Ghost Brigade but this guy is better with a broader range. He almost immediately became one of my favorite singers in this genre and I’m very impressed by what he does here. The often heavy backing riffs by Adam Kaczmarek and Piotr Lniany make sure the music never feels too soft or watered down and they keep things grounded in metal regardless of how sadboy the vocals may get at times.
:KTONIK: is an impressive little piece of downer post-rock with one foot in goth and one in prog. It’s also a titanic leap from what the band did in the past and it makes me excited to hear what they do next. Considering I went from completely unaware of their existence to excited for their future in about 2 spins of this album, maybe that should be a sign you should check this out. Now get out there and Votum!