Grasping Time is an album I’ve been keeping my eyes open for since 2018, when Swedish trio Vokonis re-released their 2016 album, Olde One Ascending. First, they spelled Olde correctly. Second, it was a damned fine debut, an oddly alluring progressive take on bands like Black Sabbath and Sleep, with a bit of Stooges and old Baroness mixed in. At that time, they stated they were working on a 2019 release, so I kept a sharp lookout, and lo! Here we are, with the band’s third album in hand. I’m hoping they took the ingredients from Olde One Ascending and the follow-up, 2017’s The Sunken Djinn, and further refined their songwriting. Let’s see if the band has been able to take their skills to the next level.
Vokonis rush out of the gate with two epic-length tracks, “Antler Queen” and Sunless Hymnal.” The guitar melodies roll along nicely, and although the rhythm section sounds a bit chaotic, it actually isn’t; this is just the result of overly bright (and overly used) cymbals. The arrangement in both songs is sweet, and the respective eight- and ten-minute track lengths pass by faster than they seem. Two points are made clear in these opening cuts: first, the band (Simon Ohlsson on guitar and mellow vox, Emil Larsson on drums, and Jonte Johansson on bass and barky shouts) have broadened their musical repertoire. These songs are more dynamic and better-arranged than on previous material. Emil and Jonte have great rhythmic chemistry, and Simon has many great clean and sludgy moments. And second, the addition of Simon’s clean, somewhat psychedelic vocals really adds some much-needed depth to the songs.
Those songs, along with the delicate-yet-heavy title track, are album highlights. So is closing track “Fading Lights,” which features some climactic bass-and-guitar riffing. The oddest aspect of Grasping Time is the song order. Vokonis open with the two long tracks, and then drop “I Hear the Siren” on us, which opens and closes at breakneck pace and features doom-laden choruses and verses. But then for some reason the band sandwiches two short instrumentals into the mix, before closing out with three more songs proper. It’s a puzzling arrangement, and the first pass through I had to verify that these were actual songs and weren’t just cut off. Neither instrumental is bad, but at the same time neither contribute to the overall album. I can’t say what Vokonis had in mind here. The wiser choice may have been to leave one or both off, and let them evolve into true songs for the next album.
Album arrangement aside, my biggest gripe with Grasping Time comes by way of Vokonis’ natural evolution. While older material was very much early Baroness-core, the more mature songwriting and Simon’s oddly charismatic clean vocals makes Jonte’s shouts come across as very average and mundane. I find myself wishing he would take less of a lead on the vocals each time he comes to the mic. Simon’s cleans give Vokonis a more unique vibe, whereas the barking of Jonte makes the band sound like any other sludge group. Hopefully on future releases Simon moves even more to the forefront.
These quibbles aside (vocals, too many cymbals, and the pair of instrumentals), it is clear on Grasping Time that Vokonis are evolving and improving. The songs here represent a solid step forward, both in arrangement and performance. It’s always great to see a band start off with obvious potential, and slowly begin to realize that potential – and move away from obvious influences – as time progresses. If Vokonis carry on along this trajectory, within an album or two they could become one of my favorite heavy-prog bands.