Losing an original, founding member of any band is never fun. I remember when Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater I was emotionally distraught, especially after numerous albums worth of lackluster drumming performances from his predecessor. The same could be said about longstanding fans of Polish progressive metal band Votum, having lost their lead vocalist between albums. Granted, I’d never listened to Votum before their upcoming album “Ktonik” (due to be released February 26th), so the shock never hit me. From what I’ve heard, though, their previous album “Harvest Moon” is considered their magnum opus, which only heightens my expectations for their newest album. Thanks to Inner Wound Recordings, I did enjoy an advanced copy of “Ktonik,” but I couldn’t help but frequently wonder how much better their previous album was in comparison.
Consisting of slower paced and less complicated tracks than typical progressive metal acts, “Ktonik” instead leans on the atmospheric nature of the band’s synthesizers, keys, and drum machines. It is keyboardist Zbigniew Szatkowsk’s performance that makes “Ktonik” such a beautiful album. The graceful yet depressing piano arrangement of “Blackened Tree” pulls at the listener’s heartstrings while new vocalist Bartosz Sobieraj sings in a lower tenor before rising in the song’s closing moments. The delayed clean guitar pattern of “Prometheus” is also catchy, giving the chance for Sobieraj to take over once again. I feel the entire album follows this slower build, mostly acoustic type of sound with plenty of breaks using ambient noise. In some ways it’s quite relaxing, but I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t check to see how much longer until the song was over. This becomes one of the album’s drawbacks, since Votum tends to group slower, droning tracks together when a change of pace is much needed. Votum does, however, deliver a beautiful closing track in “Last Word,” highlighted by its instrumental acoustic guitar and piano outro.
Just because “Ktonik” is softer in nature doesn’t mean the album is void of harder material. In fact, the first two tracks “Satellite” and “Greed” could easily be considered one of the best one-two punches I’ve heard in some time. From the start, the latter drills overly distorted guitar rhythms with passionate drumming, only to take things back with an acoustic guitar. The song is the perfect balance between heavy and soft, bringing back that atmospheric sound alongside rising vocals and pinch harmonics. “Greed” follows a familiar pattern, except allowing drummer Adam Lukaszek some of the spotlight. The fifth track “Simulacra” also is a much needed break from the somberness of the album with aggressive guitar rhythms and bass lines. Lukaszek again shines, proving his ability to create complex drumbeats despite the song’s pace. The musicianship behind these harder songs show their ability to progress while maintaining that core, droning sound throughout.
Besides the atmospheric orchestrations, “Ktonik” is most definitely a vocally-driven album, featuring new singer Sobieraj. As I stated earlier, I’d never heard Votum’s previous work, so there’s no way for me to compare Sobieraj with the previous singer. I can, however, confidently state that Sobieraj sounds almost exactly like Anathema’s Vincent Cavanagh, a talented vocalist within the progressive rock music scene. There’s definitely a Polish tinge to his voice, which I feel adds character to the album. It is because of his singing that I easily imagine Anathema’s sound, which Votum slightly mimics with “Ktonik.” What’s great about the band’s sound is can also remind the listener of other bands without outright copying them. I believe this familiarity paired with absolutely stunning production quality leaves this album as a contender for a future Top 20 spot for 2016.
If anything were holding back “Ktonik,” though, it would be its predictability. Because the album is more easygoing and less complicated than typical progressive metal albums, one cannot help but let their mind drift from time to time. Once this happens (and believe me, it took me a few listens before I fully “heard” the album), none of the songs off “Ktonik” are memorable, besides the opening tracks of course. Had there been less expected songwriting, or perhaps a different ordering of the tracks, Votum could’ve locked the listener’s attention for the duration of the album. Perhaps in their next album they could refrain from grouping multiple down-paced songs in a row, and shake things up with more wake up’s like “Satellite.” They have all the right pieces for an amazing album, just not the right order.
Overall, “Ktonik” by Votum is worth an hour of your time. From having never heard about this band to being played nearly daily at work, Votum’s atmospheric nature coupled with its raw power is addicting. With one play-through, the listener will decipher the core of who Votum is, their sound, and their potential in the progressive rock community. For fans of bands like Anathema, Riverside, Katatonia, and Delvoid, you will enjoy the calming aura of “Ktonik.” You can support Votum by checking out their website, preordering their album here, and by following them on their Facebook page for band updates.
What did you think of Votum’s “Ktonik”? Is it a peaceful, atmospheric performance, or too slow for the average proghead?