Vokonis – Odyssey Review

Vokonis have been on my radar for a few years now. I jumped in when their debut, Olde One Ascending, was rereleased in 2018, and liked it enough to review their third album, Grasping Time, right here back in 2019. As I found out after purchasing their second release The Sunken Djinn, Grasping Time was a slight step back. It was still a fun record, and the trio came up with many great moments, at times displaying a real knack for catchy riffs and progressive arrangements, but it just seemed like that magic formula was still eluding them. When word of Odyssey came out late last year, my first thought was “Damn, that is spectacular cover art.” Then the inevitable follow-up: “I hope the music holds up.” Thankfully, it does.

Unlike their past work, Vokonis kick off Odyssey with short and blistering numbers – three of the first four songs kick our ass in under four minutes. “Rebellion” is a short attacking number, with a catchy opening riff and one of the band’s new twists: in addition to bassist Jonte Johansson’s clean vocal style, he has added harsh vocals to his arsenal, and both are equally charismatic. With killer riffing and all three vocal styles (guitarist Simon Ohlsson provides the shouty vocals) it’s almost like squeezing in the band’s entire repertoire in the first three minutes. Similarly, “Blackened Wings” gets right down to business with a snaky riff and harsh vocals, no frills, just an aggressive smack to the side of the head. But they’ve got a lot more tricks up their sleeves, especially on the three longer, more progressive songs.

The title track is where we see the next twist to Vokonis‘ sound, as a Hammond organ swirls and churns into being. Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, Kamchatka, ex-Opeth) is the honored guest on Odyssey, contributing impeccable organ and Mellotron arrangements on four songs. His presence lends the songs an air of majestic 70s prog that fits the expanded songwriting perfectly. Tempo changes allow the band to intersperse contemplative, slower moments with hard-hitting riff-centric driving passages. This is highly effective on closing numbers “Hollow Waters” and “Through the Depths,” which add up to nearly twenty-one minutes of heavy progressive rock that is catchier than it has any right to be. These songs have a hint of melancholy about them at times, but the arrangements are such that we are drawn into each song as if under a spell.

The mix on Odyssey is loaded with power and vitality. Unlike on Grasping Time, the cymbals sit perfectly alongside the rest of the kit. At all times the instruments are perfectly balanced, including Wiberg’s rumbling, grinding keyboard lines. His touch is subtly perfect on all the songs he plays on, most often churning and boiling just beneath the surface, never dominating the mix aside from his brilliant solo towards the end of “Through the Depths.” Wiberg is the missing ingredient here, but the original trio more than hold their own. Ottosson and Johansson are a massive rhythm section, and Johansson’s vocals, both harsh and clean, continue to improve on each release. Simon Ohlsson delivers epic solo after solo, and earworm riff after riff, and his shouty sludge vocals have improved to boot.

“If Vokonis carry on along this trajectory, within an album or two they could become one of my favorite heavy-prog bands.” Words this prescient are rarely spoken. Here we are, twenty months later (and having listened to Odyssey for four-plus months), and this is exactly what Vokonis have accomplished. Everything has been taken up a notch – songwriting, performances, vocals – well, except for the cymbals, which have been taken down a notch. And the tasteful addition of Per Wiberg on the keyboards was a stroke of genius. Heading into month five here, Vokonis have given us one of the year’s top albums.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: The Sign Records
Websites: vokonis.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/OfficialVokonis
Release Worldwide: May 7th, 2021

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