The rubric that plays a major role in determining whether I will consider an album “good” is, as with everything around these parts, a little flexible and open to interpretation. That said, some criteria are fairly stalwart and unmoving. A good metal album must, in my eyes, have proficient instrumentation. It must display cohesion. The vocals need to be enjoyable--or, at the very least, they must spark some synapses other than those indicating that the vocalist in question can’t sing. It needs to elicit some sort of emotion response. Lastly, if it’s steeped in a genre that lives and dies by the axe, its gotta have riffs. Full stop. In the case of today’s artist in question, I’m happy to report that all of the criteria are present and accounted for...no, wait. We’re missing one. But y’know what? Let’s just roll with it.
As a pseudo-medieval Village inhabited by a motley crew of slumbering (albeit highfalutin) peasants, we've dealt with a lot of absurd challenges. And, to our credit, we've survived ‘em all--quite handily, I might add. Feudal serfdom? A non-issue: we deposed that sucker years ago. Blatantly nonexistent sewer system? At this point we can't smell, and we're certifiably immune to any plague these rats have to offer. Loot-thirsty marauders from the north? They leave us alone now; last time they attempted an assault, we armored up, threw on some Sabaton, and slaughtered their strongest warriors with ease.
But here’s something we have yet to deal with: Orcs. Y’know, the brutish and (typically) malevolent beasts of lore. Two be-tusked specimens have emerged from their slime-ridden dens, and, much to our amused curiosity, are currently sniffing around our hastily constructed barricade. They’ve killed some chickens, but beyond that, they seem...uncharacteristically friendly. This may be a terrible mistake, but let’s let them in, shall we? If we perish this fateful day, so be it.
As of late, we slumbering Villagers have been drinking deep of the genres that tend to fall on the more extreme end of the spectrum. And, while there is certainly ample time and place for extremity, it's high time for this particular scribe to slip into something a little more comfortable. I crave the sweet embrace of dusty wind-swept fuzz, and, when I’m in this sultry mood, nothing does me right quite like top-shelf legends of the (then-emergent) scene.
I speak...not of Kyuss. But hear me out. Maybe I’m off my rocker, but I don’t think there are many longtime fans of stoner rock willing to state that Lowrider’s seminal Ode To Io isn’t, in fact, one of the greatest albums the genre has produced. A particularly notable designation, given the Swedish (rather than Californian) origin. While Kyuss may have opened the door, Lowrider swaggered over the threshold, shouldering a massive groove and a cut-to-the-chase approach to composition. In many ways, Ode To Io felt like it boiled stoner rock down to its basic essence: big attitude, bigger riffs. Every track on this classic feels essential in its own right, a massive step into fuzz-ridden stardom for the young band. But rather than providing Lowrider a launchpad, Ode To Io served as a trailblazer, allowing a bevy of other bands to come into their own. Lowrider have been around in the 20 years between then and now--a split or a remaster here, concert appearances there. But a proper followup effort was missing from the picture. And so here we are, history lesson complete, Refractions held tight in our white-knuckled grasp.
"Does the world really need another doom band? Probably not, but that might be why Blessed Black should be the next band on your radar." So begins Blessed Black's bio, and, immediately, prior to hearing a single note, my ho-hum radar is activated. Not sure if that's the one they were referring to, per se. But such are the risks one runs.
It's a valid point: does the world, indeed, really need another doom band? "Need" is a strong word, but there's certainly an audience afoot for this commonplace brand of doom-by-way-of-stoner-rock-by-way-of-grunge-by-way-of-heavy-metal. Provided they are good enough at their craft to merit a listen or two, I certainly won't turn them away, and so here we are, spinning this Cincinnatian(?) outfit's worthy debut, for what must be the tenth time today.
This review (in its unadulterated form) was originally published in April, but, as today saw the re-release of an expanded version under Ripple Music, we thought it would be appropriate to break out this ol' writeup. The following is an edited and updated version. - Ed.
As obnoxious as it is to have people stoically refuse to admit that rock is, in fact, not dead, it's more obnoxious still to have a critic point out how patently absurd that statement is. So I'll refrain from falling down that particular rabbit hole. Needless to say, LA’s Void Vator plays some damn fine rock ‘n’ roll with the best of ‘em, and, from all accounts, they've got nowhere to go but up. This past April saw the release of Stranded as a 6-track EP, but here, after catching the eye of Ripple Music, it has been re-released as an album, with 2 brand new tracks in tow. If there was e’er a time to dust out the cobwebs and get back into chorus slinging high energy rock, yer looking at it.
Biographical material indicates a similarity to bands as diverse as Nirvana, Pantera, Megadeth and Foo Fighters. An eclectic mix, yes, yet oddly accurate. Take quite literally any track here--let’s say "Nothing to Lose" or the dynamic "Put Away Wet," for argument’s sake--and you’ll find the best elements of the aforementioned lurking mere inches below the surface. Bottom line: if you want your rock to have it, Void Vator wears it proudly. Short tracks. Grin-inducing solos. Blatantly air guitar-able riffs, which create and subsequently release kinetic energy like one taking a boltcutter to a tightly wound coil. Straightforward head-bopping groove. Aggressively present drums. Some of the more earwormy vocal melodies I’ve heard in a very long while--and this, I mean genuinely.
“Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” riffs Grohl in some long-forgotten internet video. Rock may live and/or die by the guitar, but within the genre confines, a band’s staying power is often dependent on the vocalist’s ability to write the kind of chorus that get trapped in your head for days. Here, Void Vator succeeds remarkably. Take standout track "Inside Out," which features a hook that wouldn't go amiss in a newfound single from Audioslave or (the oft-neglected) Manman God. Lucas Kanopa’s classically gruff voice has the golden ability to inflict nostalgia-ridden glee, and if your track delivers a reaction of that pedigree, you’re doing something right. From an industry standpoint, “radio ready” has, unfortunately, become a bit of an unfortunate insult. Stranded deserves a wide audience, plain ‘n’ simple, and they’ve got the potential in spades. This album's high octane strains have graced the Sleeping Village's halls a multitude of times this year, and will likely receive some attention as we compile our end of year lists. It's dangerously repeatable, to the detriment of a certain stack of promos.
This re-release includes two new tracks: "Everything Sucks" and "Monster." The former is a bit of a wildcard, featuring a doomy intro that launches into a particularly nihilistic and punky brand of garage rock. It's a lot less subtle than the rest of the tracks herein, and feels a little under-baked on it's own. That said, the asymmetrical intensity between the respective halves provides substantial interest. "Monster," on the other hand, feels like a very complete track, undoubtedly ready and able to fill the all-important closer position. This lil' number has a delightfully unrestrained quality, and feels like an accurate summation of the general vibe Void Vator continue to nail.
Critically, the catchiness of each track does depend largely on the vocals. Personal preference, no doubt, but a thicker guitar tone might make these catchy-as-hell riffs a little heftier in stature. There's a thin line between remaining accessible and beating up your audience, but as it stands now, the guitar sounds a tad thin. But that aside: perhaps most importantly, Void Vator aren’t boring. If that sounds like a grossly under-applied veneer of accomplishment, know that dynamism and maintained interest are...startlingly rare. For a genre that has historically gotten by on singles and lots of filler, packing a punch with all 8 tracks is a victory. Let there be no doubt: as long as high energy bands like Void Vator are doing the rounds and writing kickass tunes, rock ain’t going anywhere. Keep fighting the good fight.
Void Vator’s (highly recommended) Stranded was released Nov. 22nd, 2019 from Ripple Music
Providing thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy, and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a groggy-eyed, highfalutin peasantry.