Mascot records [Release date 12.10.18]
Vola’s name means flying in Italian and that is precisely what the band aims for with a mixture of prog-metal, electronics and big resolving hooks, as they envelope the listener with a judiciously used wall of sound that aims for the stars.
The album title ‘Applause Of A Distant Crowd’ is a conceptual and contemporary reference to our relationship with internet friends.
The Danish band’s tenth anniversary sees them being been mentioned in reference to djent – a subgenre of progressive metal – but more of a sound than an actual genre. And it’s the clever use of textural sounds and the quiet-to-loud dynamics with interwoven emotions within a wall of sound that gives the band its impact.
Their prog influences stretch over generations, reaching as far back as Pink Floyd and more recently the Porcupine Tree, while their heavier influences range from King Crimson to Swedish metal band Messuggah.
Vocalist Asger Mygind’s also adds 80′s synth pop era vocals in between the explosive soundscapes.
They open with the atmospheric ‘We Are Thin Air’ as Mygind’s voice glides over a shifting bass line that gives the song sundry possibilities. They opt for the first of many big sonic bursts and a contrasting drop-down with an 80′s sounding poppy voice over electrobeats. This is their esssential musical template with contrasting elements rooted in some complex rhythms and additional electronics in a layered sound as they fly high.
A melange of metal riffs, dense rhythms and electronics is to be found on ‘Smartfriend’, which shifts from an electronic opening to impossibly heavy staccato fuzz metal riffs and a processed voice. The track seems to revel in the twist and turns of contrasting musical sections, before a resolving chorus defines their style.
Much like the later heavy riff driven ‘Whaler’, the riffs owe much to the King Crimson ‘Red’ album.
The fractured rhythmic pattern and staccato bass lines create an unsettling mood which is neatly juxtaposed by further quiet-to-heavy passage as the number builds up imperiously.
Apart from the prog-metal crossover, the band interweaves its music with conceptual strands that explore of our relationship with social media, an apt theme for unsettling, but compelling music.
‘Ruby Pool’ is both an ethereal melodic delight and an album highlight, featuring a beautiful vocal that draws us in over electronic percussion. It’s the best example of the way Vola immerse the listener in an ambient spacey electronic environment which is counterweighted by the fragility of the vocal.
And it’s that sense of balance that lies at the heart of a complex album worthy of several plays to get to the heart of the layered soundscapes.
The clean guitar sound on an understated Dave Gilmour style solo is a surprise, on a musical landscape dominated by distorted fuzz tones and some bone crunching riffs.
‘Alien Shivers’ is a complete contrast with the juxtaposition of Fripp style riffs and a contrasting electronic drop – simply voice and electronic percussion with shades of Radiohead – before the inevitable dam bursting chorus, which is almost in waltz time, but has an imperious drive.
There’s a further surprise on ‘Vertigo’, with Mygind’s close-to-the-mic vocal over distant eerie keyboards. His intimate phrasing evokes Sylvan, Ferry and the groundbreaking Rupert Hine, while the electronics recall The Blue Nile.
The voice hovers and emotes over a foreboding electronic landscape. A threaded guitar line then levers us into some beguiling tones that perfectly amplify the lyrical feel.
The title track has an Eno influenced electro loop intro, before the trademark quiet-to-loud dynamic and a vocal drop-down. It works mainly because of the Morrissey style vocal phrasing and electronic backdrop which once again fills the room with an imposing sonic quality.
The subtle push and pull rhythms of the electronic percussion and the subsequent voice collage draws the listener inexorably into a synth-led explosion.
If there’s a slight criticism of this adventurous album its simply that the band use the same macro structures and micro dynamic triggers on a succession of tracks, which robs this beautiful effort of its full impact.
There’s so much to digest here, from the lyrics, layered sounds and a raft of dynamics to the electronic tones and intricate, but feverish rhythms that lead the focused listener down different musical alleyways ,which rarely linger and always keep you hanging on for more.
The band lives up to its name as it ambitiously aims for new musical vistas, only to restate their essential style on the afore mentioned ‘Whale’, which almost feels like a filler.
They book-end things with the beguiling mellow piano-led ‘Green Screen Mother’, which might again be Anathema, on another song that appears to be about the internet.
The gentle ending exemplifies a melodic bent that fights hard to find its place in a rich musical landscape. And it’s that process of the band making their way forward that makes this album so interesting. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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