Copenhagen, Denmark’s VOLA has a fantastic sense of groove, the ability to write infectious melodies and creative off-kilter rhythms, tastefully utilized down-tuned guitars, and continue to grow with every recording. Their previous full-length “Inmazes” was once a name-your-price release on Bandcamp before they signed to the Mascot Label Group who re-released the CD on September 16, 2016. I’ve listened to “Inmazes” more than any other CD since 2016 (possibly tied with Astronoid’s “Air”). I had high expectations for the new “Applause Of A Distant Crowd” (out October 12, 2018) and was concerned that they may have reached their pinnacle with “Inmazes.”
Much like when your favorite team continues their winning streak, VOLA has executed another victory that should catapult their music into the ears of even more discerning melodic metal fans. Asger Mygind (guitar & vocals), Nicolai Mogensen (bass), and Martin Werner (keys) return with new drummer Adam Janzi who takes over for Felix Ewert. I thought Ewert was a brilliant drummer and I was worried that a new drummer may negatively alter the specific rhythmic feel that VOLA has presented to this point. My worry was unnecessary as Janzi proves to have a complete understanding of what is needed for the music of VOLA: impressive syncopation, groove for days, tasteful cymbal-work, and deep pockets.
As should be with any “progressive” band, VOLA evolves while maintaining their identity. “We Are Thin Air” is an excellent selection with which to start the CD. The drums sound fantastic, the distortion sounds organic, and the chorus is dense and multi-layered. Upon repeated listens, the keyboards of Martin Werner show themselves to be a critical ingredient in the dish that is VOLA.
Second track and second single “Ghosts” features a poppy keyboard melody, combination of electric and acoustic guitars, and an earworm of a chorus while containing interesting percussive syncopation during the verses. The sound of the bass is huge. Although the impression of a simple pop-rock song formula appears, repeated listens reveals this is a thoughtful composition. Note how the verse music changes between the first and second verses.
Some tracks sound like they were written directly after the “Inmazes” sessions with heavily-distorted guitars, memorable melodic choruses, prominent keyboard atmospheres & melodies, and very groovy rhythms; first single “Smartfiend” is one of those tracks. It’s one of the heaviest of the CD and its placement is perfect. Fans of djenty rhythms and aggressive bass tones will be assuaged.
The combination of hypnotic guitar and piano floating over the punchy bass/drum rhythm section is one specific joy brought from listening to “Ruby Pool.” Drummer Adam Janzi impresses with what sounds like a performance of more than two arms and two legs. This isn’t a heavy song but it is intense if you pay attention.
I’d like to mention the flow and dynamics of AOADC right now. It’s apparent that special care has been taken as to which songs appear at what time during the procession of this disc. Sometimes stark dynamics throw off the flow of a disc but by the time “Alien Shivers” comes around – a song juxtaposing heavy/groovy and dreamy/atmospheric – I believe we have a special album on our hands. It’s reminiscent of “Inmazes” but is not re-creating it. This song causes goosebumps and shows the beauty of VOLA.
For me, “Vertigo” is where we flip from Side A to Side B. Containing layers of vocals plus synths and keyboards and zero percussion, this reveals new territory for VOLA. It is immersive and cleans the palate to prepare the listener for what’s coming up.
“Still” is a rhythmic puzzle dressed-up as an arena-rocker. While this track is identifiably VOLA it shows growth in the band’s composition. Like many of their songs, it’s another track that reveals more over repeated listens; listen for the synthesizers, the atmosphere, the production of the vocals, the background vocals. I suggest blasting this in your car or on some headphones.
The pièce de résistance is the title track “Applause Of A Distant Crowd.” Like a gourmet dish, specific flavors are utilized to compliment rather than over-power. The music under the 1st and 2nd verses is altered to propel our journey. The first time the chorus appears it’s delicate and pretty with multiple vocal layers. The second time it’s huge and can thoroughly burrow its way into your head and carries us into a recap of the opening riff. The song placed me back on the ground at the end and I’m left glowing. This is easily one of the bands best songs.
“Whaler” is a great juxtaposition between heavy, down-tuned chugging in the verses and hopeful, bright choruses. The song’s midsection is expertly employed to merge the heavy and the sublime. Mogensen’s throaty bass tone cannot be ignored on this song.
The final cut “Green Screen Mother” is piano and synth-based and short; perhaps a companion to “Vertigo” in that it is calming but (and I hate this phrase) leaves the listener wanting more.
It’s hard to be objective when reviewing a band that has thoroughly etched themselves into my psyche as much as VOLA has. I’ve done my best. I gather VOLA has done their best and we’re able to reap the benefits.
- We Are Thin Air
- Ruby Pool
- Alien Shivers
- Applause of a Distant Crowd
- Green Screen Mother
Label: Mascot Records