VOLA - WITNESS
PROGGY DANES HAVE A VERITABLE BAG OF TRICKS TO WOO THE MAINSTREAM
Denmark's Vola have been making steady headway with their refined prog-flavoured rock. Their last album Applause of a Distant Crowd (2018) was something of a breakthrough and this third release has been much anticipated.
Straight Lines a radio rock hit single any day of the week. The shiny polished production transports you back to 2006 with a metalcore veneer of juddering verses, reflective passages of quietude and a sweeping grandiose chorus of floodlit pop catchiness. Though the guitar work retains a quasi-djent thump, this is not heavy. With its singalong infectiousness, Straight Lines is an enormous opening statement and demonstrable proof that Vola are doing the unthinkable and gate-crashing the mainstream space.
It is not a one-off either as another single Head Mounted Sideways offers a similarly formula. This time with some seriously cranked up djent angular punch – which is intensified by agitated vocoded spoken word and shrieking retro synths – it is a heavier offering. Yet this only serves to enunciate the soaring pop chorus in all its glittering altitude. Two songs in and Vola demonstrate they have nailed the art of the humungous chorus – think an ultra-catchy Deftones as their most dreamy and stratospheric. 24 Light Years – another single – is perhaps the most accessible track, deceivingly restrained with the gentle summer night melodies hiding some clever progressive guitar manoeuvres.
Another single, These Black Claws, needs specific mention as a highly successful experiment. Crashing guitar volume is finally given an unequivocal entrance only to give way to creepy, paranoid low-fi Casio keyboards and frail confessional whimpered vocals. A passage of gravelly, introspective rapping from SHAHMEN (a duo of Amsterdam producer SENSE and LA rapper BLS) gives it an unsettling, urban-neuroticism redolent of Massive Attack. Dank and claustrophobic though this is, the chorus that kicks in is another resplendent earworm that could easily infiltrate mainstream airwaves. And yet, the song still manages to encompass a rubbery, down-tuned djent breakdown that is like Meshuggah going pop. There are quite a few working parts to this song, but the whole works delightfully. Vola can also dial down into the realms of mellow with the likes of the restrained, late-night trippy electronica of Freak sounding like a rock version of French chill-out specialists Air. Again, there is deft layering of textures at play but not messily so and the melody remains deceivingly simple.
Four singles were lifted from Witness but the other tracks would also be worthy of release and other bands would give their eye teeth to have these melodies in their toolkit. Napalm has a gorgeous refrain and Future Bird is classic reflective rock; uplifting yet meditative.
The sound on Witness is panoramic. Some of this is down to the deployment of synths, huge wavering vertical screens of which give this a breathy spaciousness and high-altitude sense of vastness. Moreover, vocoded effects, clinical clinks of keys and polyrythmic precision also add a futuristic, chromed quality. Singer Asker Mygind has an inoffensive and delicate, slightly high-pitched delivery that can be intimately hushed or sweep up those big choruses. His style and ruminative lyrical direction give this an airy wistfulness and emotional intelligence. The choruses and melodies are truly ascendent and memorable though they are, this is not dumb. For all the dreaminess, the warm vibes, and sailing harmonies there is a complex, technical undertow of musicianship at play. The balance is perfect – nuanced enough to satiate prog affiliates but catchy enough to appeal more widely. Put crudely, the purists will notice the cleverness, the rest will not but still enjoy it.
Witness bursts with bombastically radio-friendly melodies capable to seducing a new and truly wider audience. The sound is broad and poppy enough to translate well into mainstream airwaves and Vola have clearly nailed the knack of penning monumental melodies and ozone-wide singalong choruses. The feasibility of a band like Vola hitting the mainstream should not, in this case, provoke core fans into such a state of disgust that they develop blood clots. Witness is spliced with clever prog mechanics and intelligent technical songcraft. Yet the whole distillation seems natural and unforced. If they get wider recognition for this effort, it is richly deserved.