Full disclosure here: I don’t really like thrash all that much. I like it mixed with other things, like black metal for instance, but I’ve always found it to be a style of riffing best enjoyed in moderation. As a skeletal bedroom-dwelling troll, I’ve always connected more with metal’s more brooding styles—castles, cosmos, and such—rather than the youthful rambunctiousness of pure thrash.
However I really really like long-running Bay Area alt-metal Hammers of Misfortune, especially their bizarre, Rennfaire-inspired debut album, The Bastard. I’m also partial to Agalloch, as well as the mentally expansive doom of YOB, so the idea of a thrash metal album by the members of those three groups at least merits a listen. And so I signed up to tackle Vhöl’s Deeper Than Sky, the follow up to their 2013 self-titled debut.
Of course, Deeper Than Sky could just as well have been another passion project, the lovechild of a few eclectic superstars (at least as far as the underground is concerned) getting together to pay tribute to their roots. And initially, opener “The Desolate Damned” seems to confirm this. It’s a classic crossover-tinged rager with a ripping second half that feeds off of Mike Scheidt’s sharp barking and trademark helium wails, but it’s ultimately quite familiar. The same can be said for follow-up “3AM.”
It isn’t until the epic 12-minute title track that Deeper Than Sky comes into its own. But once it does it becomes the surreal blend of styles that one might expect from this particular group of musicians. With a little more room to breathe, Vhöl unfurl their starry limbs, toying with the progressive guitar rhythms and harmonies of John Cobbet's other projects and letting Schiedt’s voice run free, even unleashing of his earthshaking growls to incredible effect.
The album’s weird streak continues with the demented instrumental “Paino,” which clomps around like the drunken and multi-limbed patron of some asteroidal saloon, before launching its final trio of cosmic jams. “Red Chaos” with its regal mid-section and closer “The Tomb” are both effective genre blends that lean a little more toward the thrash side of things. But it’s “Lightless Sun” that’s the real star. From the mind-bending stutter of the opening riff to the Scheidt’s ghotlly vocals, it’s exactly the sort of song I want from these guys, a tentacled cosmic horror grafted to a thrash skeleton.
Obviously, every sci-fi thrash outfit owes some debt of gratitude to Voivod and Piggy’s skronky riffage, but Vhöl do more than enough here to leave their own mark on the genre. Deeper Than Sky is a very solid (“3AM”), sometimes great (“Lightless Sun”) album. But it’s where they’re hopefully headed that has me truly excited.