After breaking up their black metal band Ludicra in 2011, guitarist John Cobett and drummer Aesop Dekkar decided to make one more album together, so they recruited YOB vocalist Mike Scheidt and Hammers of Misfortune’s multi-instrumentalist Sigrid Sheie (on bass) and formed Vhöl, a band that combines well-honed songwriting with offbeat experimentation and freewheeling abandon. The band’s self-titled debut is rooted in black metal and hardcore, but it’s the injections of classic and prog-metal between bludgeoning rhythms and blastbeats that make the album exceptional. Picture old-school Darkthrone and Motorhead tangled in a burning mosh pit with Mastodon, Voivod and Rob Halford.
More than anything, it’s those Halford touches that make Vhöl stand out. Unlike the countless bands that interrupt extreme metal passages with melodic riffs and clean vocals, Vhöl layer soaring vibrato atop sepulchral growls and wherever the fuck they feel like it, and never to create sing-along choruses. The same holds true for Cobbett’s tuneful leads and fills, which provide euphony to even the most dissonant parts of a song. Throwing caution to the wind is Vhöl’s M.O., and it’s what they’re best at. On “Plastic Shaman” they weave an epic NWOBHM guitar melody, sustained chords and marching drums through a black crust rhythm and halfway through “Illuminate” the song takes a chiming, psychedelic left turn before transforming into a transition that can only be described as power metal to unlock the gates of Valhalla. Even stranger is whatever lurks in the middle of “Arising,” which resembles a nightmarish ho-down replete with shuffling drums and slide guitar. Although Vhöl was originally intended as a one-off, the members reportedly are already making plans for a follow-up. As long as they don’t lose their bold spontaneity and hunger to reinvent, it should mark yet another step in the continued growth of extreme metal.