Released: 2015, Profound Lore Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
I guess I should’ve expected that a project featuring prominent members of YOB, Agalloch, and Hammers of Misfortune would be something special, but nothing prepared me for the wild, stylistic 180 from the participants’ day jobs that plays out on Vhöl’s sophomore full length, DEEPER THAN SKY. Shedding the doom, psychedelia, and blackened ambience in favor of pounding, progressive, power metal; this album shreds with surprising intensity and unparalleled technical prowess.
As “The Desolate Damned” fades in with neoclassical arpeggio runs and thrashing gallops, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s something from the Dragonforce lineage or a recent Metal Blade signee. But the combination of Mike Scheidt’s nasal declarations, Voivod-ian song structure and some seriously Maiden-esque guitar harmonies allow Vhöl to present themselves as something readily familiar one moment and something totally out of this world the next. Tracks like “3AM” and “Red Chaos” somehow manage to bridge the manic hardcore intensity of Cro-Mags/D.R.I. with Helloween worthy melodicism. Hell, the instrumental “Paino” might be the first progressive metal/ragtime jazz mashup. But it’s still inexplicably metal, inexplicably HEAVY. The 12 minute title track is arguably the closest the band comes to what you’d expect out of this kind of collaboration, but it’s remarkably closer to ‘80s Bay Area Thrash than it is to anything akin to “Marrow” or “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion”.
Despite the familiar trappings found across DEEPER THAN SKY, the challenging experimentalism that’s readily associated with YOB, Agalloch, and Hammers recordings permeate just below the surface of each of the album’s seven tracks. There’s no denying that Vhöl still loves the metal, but there’s also no denying that Scheidt/Dekker/Sheie/Cobbett have all moved mountains to put their own spin on the genre. DEEPER THAN SKY is an album that will appeal to trad metal enthusiasts, tech metal aficionados, and lovers of music generally left of center. Even if you’re mildly curious, I encourage you to check this out and see what Vhöl has to offer. It won’t take long to change your mind.