Vokonis are one of those bands that explore the murky land between metal, doom, sludge, post-metal, and maybe one or two more styles that eluded my ears while listening to the group’s output. That mix of styles has perhaps led to a sense of uncertainty over the band’s direction and in the press release of this, their fourth album, it states that this is their “first true prog-record”. But, before Dream Theater or even Yes fans get their credit cards out to buy the album, let’s examine that claim in a little more detail. The album opens in powerful style with Rebellion: three minutes of ferocious guitar chords and even more ferocious shouted vocals, both courtesy of Simon Ohlsson, accompanied by heavily fuzzed bass from Jonte Johansson who thankfully (at least for my ears) sings clean vocals for the surprisingly melodic chorus line. Considering drummer Peter Ottosson is the third and final band member, the wall of sound they manage to create is very impressive. Musically, we are very much in the territory of Mastodon here; there’s absolutely no subtlety, and no prog either it must we said. The aggressive template of Rebellion is used in a further two tracks on the album, with those three songs lasting around eleven minutes in total. While you could argue that the aggressive and quite frankly grating singing (if one can call it that) from Ohlsson does indeed fit the harsh musical world of these three tracks, it is something that to these ears wore a bit thin over the course of a whole album. It is also a little surprising given the quality of the clean vocals from Johansson.
The remaining three tracks on the album clock in at a combined total of just under thirty minutes and represent a very different beast so let’s look at them one by one. The title track opens with a progressive-metal riff, slightly reminiscent of Rush, nicely supported by the organ played by guest artist Per Wiberg (of Opeth fame). Wiberg’s keyboards certainly bring a new dimension to these longer tracks, adding different textures and of course a more progressive feel to the music. After that instrumental start, we then slip into the shouting (verses) versus clean (choruses) paradigm again before moving to a slower and much more interesting doom-laden section with some fine singing by Johannson and a marvellous keyboard chord sequence that concludes with a rising guitar arpeggio. More aggressive vocal sections follow with Ohlsson also adopting growling vocals which works rather well. Overall, the piece may be a little disjointed, but it is an interesting effort and shows what the band is capable of if they stretch themselves beyond a three-minute thrash.
The second of the longer tracks, Hollow Waters, has a brief guitar-based introduction leading into a beautifully mellow and nicely restrained vocal part –remarkably different from what has gone before – that reminded me of the languid melodies you of early Wishbone Ash (Persephone, for example). Needless to say, the song swiftly moves to more aggressive tones even if Ohlsson seems to thankfully temper his vocals a little bit in this one. The album closes with twelve minutes of Through The Depths which begins with a simple but captivating stoner riff accompanied by layered guitars arpeggios. The vocal sections are a little more varied and compelling in this track and after a good climax around the mid-way mark, there is some quiet guitar doodling supported by organ before the band let loose for a lengthy instrumental jam to close the album.
The package is completed by the colourful and impressive artwork on the album cover which has echoes of Roger Dean about it, thus reinforcing the prog credentials of this release. So, is this their “first true prog-record” as the label claims? The compositional complexity of those three longer songs plus the addition of keyboards certainly points towards an affirmative answer to that question. Those three longer efforts are excellent songs, full of good ideas, but the insistence by Ohlsson to stick with shouted vocals seems to jar somewhat. I could imagine the same jarring effect if for example Yes had invited Johnny Rotten to share singing duties with Jon Anderson on the Going For The One album! The band may have missed an opportunity to exploit Johansson’s clean vocals more in these three tracks which would have given them a more cohesive feel. Despite this, Odyssey still represents a good step forward by Vokonis, and having released four albums in five years, it will be interesting to see where they go next.