VHÖL – “Illuminate” (Stereogum Premiere)

As I wrote when VHÖL claimed the top spot on our inaugural installment of our new heavy music feature, “The Black Market: The Month In Metal“: Ludicra was one of the great metal bands of the past two decades, and their 2009 album, The Tenant, was their most fully realized work, so their sudden dissolution in 2011 was shocking and sad. The reunion of that band’s two most prominent members — drummer Aesop Dekker (Agalloch) and guitarist John Cobbett (Hammers Of Misfortune) — would have been cause for excitement even without the inclusion of frontman Mike Scheidt, of the mighty Yob, another band whose growing catalog has produced some of recent metal’s most noteworthy works. (Filling out the band is bassist Sigrid Sheie, who also plays alongside Cobbett today as a member of Hammers Of Misfortune.) What it would sound like, though, was anyone’s guess. Dekker is kind of an American version of Darkthrone’s Fenriz … And VHÖL synthesize many of the same atavistic influences Darkthrone have incorporated over the years: first-wave black metal; d-beat hardcore; late-’80s Teutonic thrash; King Diamond vocal flourishes. Then they blacken those influences, add some sludge, throw ‘em all into the cauldron, and hit “Incinerate.” None of it is new, exactly, and by all rights, it should sound retro. Instead, it sounds classic.

The song that topped our list last month was “Grace,” the first release from the band’s forthcoming debut on Profound Lore. Now we’ve got another, and it’s … even better. “Illuminate” opens with a Dekker-led tribal barrage before shifting into a Celtic Frost thrasher, with all the knobs twisted hard to the right: bigger, faster, louder, fuller. More accurate, really: biggest, fastest, loudest, fullest. Scheidt sounds like a man possessed, and his guitar interplay with Cobbett has the deathwish thrills of a pair of tweakers drag racing on black ice. At 4:30, though, the song shifts gears, slows, and bursts anew into something else entirely; Scheidt is suddenly flexing Halfordian melodies and range, while the instruments are building a post-metal skyline worthy of Agalloch. And build it does. By song’s end, Dekker must literally be on fire, with Cobbett, Scheidt, and Shie hanging on like skitchers on a train. It’s truly goddamn amazing. Listen.

VHÖL is out 4/16 via Profound Lore.

Tags: VHOL