VOLA – Witness Review

Three high quality releases is the threshold. The point at which a band stops being an exciting upstart and starts being a respected part of their community. I previously enjoyed 2015’s Inmazes and loved 2018’s Applause of a Distant Crowd. VOLA’s unique brand of poppy, electronic, progressive metal put them at the forefront of the modern prog scene and now 2021 is seeing the release of their third album called Witness. It firmly establishes them as one of the most inventive and enjoyable bands in the scene and I’m delighted to publish a positive report on their progress.

VOLA’s hallmark singular sound remains strong and proud on Witness. Blending djenting progressive metal with electronica and incredible poppy vocals, these Danes know how to write a catchy tune. Second single and Song o’ the Year candidate “Straight Lines” exemplifies the best of these qualities. Its opening shifts from a smooth keyboard melody to the same melody but carried by a fat guitar tone. The verse re-establishes Asger Mygind as one of metal’s most gifted singers, and then the chorus hits and everything in the world seems good again. It’s an absolute worldie, boasting a massive vocal hook with catchy keys sat behind it. It’s been stuck in my head for weeks since its release and I can’t see it falling out of my rotation any time soon.

I previously described how Applause upped the ante from Inmazes by taking its ideas but doubling down, simultaneously featuring more djent and more electronica. Well Witness doubles down again as its djent is all the heavier and its electronic influences all the stronger. “These Black Claws” epitomizes this development as it coalesces huge guitar leads with a subdued fusion of chillwave and trip hop. The producer/rapper duo of Shahmen fill out the verses while Mygind’s silky singing gilds its chorus. I was doubtful on first listen as I’ve really not heard metal like this before; it sounds like a marriage made in Hell, but it’s really grown on me. “24 Light-Years” further advances the broader range of electronic sounds as it features an energetic, 90s-style trance beat, forming half of a one-two punch with “Head Mounted Sideways” which might be the heaviest material released by the band to date. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Witness is solely about melody and electronica; its lead is truly crushing and I love the harsh edge to the roared vocals at its apex.

I hope my descriptions demonstrate that VOLA is a highly unusual band. The way they blend the accessible with the inaccessible so successfully belies surprisingly clever writing. The legitimate heaviness, weird time signatures and off-tempo rhythms mean there’s plenty here to ward off more casual listeners but the killer vocal melodies tie it all together with a alluring bow on top. Tracks cycle through variants of the same melodies but on different instruments and the brisk writing imbues proceedings with interminable energy, even in the ballady moments. “24 Light-Years” illustrates the compositional growth as its relative lightness shows off its intricate, winding synths, layered with busy but muted drums and a tasteful guitar solo. It would be so easy for these guys to rewrite Inmazes. They already had great hooks and a unique blend of genres. But I admire that they refuse to be stationary and continue to produce quality music through change.

So we arrive at big question: is Witness VOLA’s best release? Ultimately I think it sits ahead of Inmazes but a smidgen behind Applause. It’s simultaneously tighter and more experimental than the former but not quite as consistently catchy as the latter. And it’s front-loaded with its best melodies and boldest experimentation earlier and a marginal dip in quality over the final third. But it’s a close run thing and Applause is one of the best 2018 releases so I’ll not be overly critical. If you hate big riffs, hooky melodies and accomplished musicianship then this is not the record for you.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Mascot Records
Websites: volaband.com | vola.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/vola
Releases worldwide: May 21st, 2021

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