VHÖL – VHÖL
Release: LP, 2013 (Profound Lore)
Genre: Crust/Progressive Black Metal
Sonic Brethren: Ludicra, Disfear, Hammers of Misfortune
I’m not sure if the term underground supergroup is oxymoronical or even legitimate, but it’s a perfect descriptor for VHÖL. The Profound Lore brainchild consists of some of the West Coast’s most unique and talented musicians, each honing their craft and combining their skills to put forth a work unlike anything their separate projects have produced. Aesop Dekker and John Cobbett reunite for the first time since Ludicra’s demise, the latter bringing fellow Hammers of Misfortunite Sigrid Sheie into the mix. And front and center stands Yob mastermind Mike Scheidt, providing his ethereal vocal chords to round out the group.
As each member brings a highly respected pedigree into the fold, the anticipation for the release has been tantalizing since it was first announced about a year ago. I was lucky enough to catch VHÖL’s first — out of two in their career thus far — live show at the Fall Into Darkness six months back so it’s extremely rewarding to finally hear their high energy assault on record. At the show I overheard Aesop remark that the band was making an attempt at a d-beat record, an homage to the legendary Discharge. While the band managed to do just that, they were able to accomplish much, much more.
My favorite characteristic of VHÖL’s music is that you can distinctly hear each member’s contribution and unique style. John Cobbett’s projects have always been high on my list of favorite acts, and hearing his signature galloping melodies and trad metal fundamentals in a blackened style brings back an emotion only a new Ludicra album can provide. His penchant for cycling through furious passages interspersed with melodic breathers only adds to the band’s intrigue. Dekker’s distinctive punk drumming, meanwhile, feels more at home than it ever has been. His erratic fills and organic rhythm are the perfect complement to the high-energy output. Unfortunately the kick drum is so low in the mix that it takes away from the classic d-beat charm, turning the fist-pumping factor a few notches below where it should be.
The songs are much denser than their crusty veil gives off. You can take the album at face value as another filthy headbanger, but the band takes it so much deeper than that. Penultimate track “Arising” is the highlight of the debut, evoking a soaring, epic approach to the band’s already diverse influences. It splits its first half between speed metal and punk sensibilities, before diving into an unbelievably fun bridge that’s positively Rush-like. A true testament to the band’s fluidity. But each song gives something new, something different. If this is just a one-time side project, it shows the power of pure creative energy combining forces, but it would also would be a shame.
Final thoughts: Like everything these artists touch, this self-titled debut is a work of genre-crossing genius.