Every couple of years, my wife and I travel overseas for a few club shows overseas and schedule a vacation around the concerts. We like to travel to see bands one doesn’t get to see often in the States. This year, we’d been hoping to see Voyager after their near Eurovision qualifying performance in Australia, and VOLA, the Danish/Swedish heavy prog newcomers. Both shows were at the medium sized venues in their respective clubs, the gigs were played in the 750 person room in 013, and the 650 person ‘Oz’ room in Melkweg, and the venues were packed wall to wall with people. Both nights we got great vantage points on the balcony rail, and the sound up on the balcony was amazing in both venues.
The opener for the tour was the Reno, Nevada based Four Stroke Baron. Nominally a duo as per their bandcamp, they toured Europe as a trio, with the guitarist doubling as the singer. If one had to pigeonhole Four Stroke Baron into a specific genre, it’s pretty firmly in the progressive metal camp, with synth-pop, nu-metal, and 80’s new wave influences. The band, not having a lot of the stage to work with, was very static, but the bassist had tons of energy. The vocalist was very unique, using a modified talk-box to sing through and processing the vocals further beyond that. In so many ways, they are the classic opener, a promising new act with some really interesting ideas, but they need a few more albums and performances under their belt before they blossom into something potentially outstanding.
After a 25 minute set, Four Stroke Baron made way for Voyager, self described progressive dance metal from Perth, Australia. Danny Estrin, the vocalist (and also an immigration lawyer in his day job), can be a vocal clone for Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode more often than not. Their new-wave synth laden metal, overlaid with chunky guitar riffs from their two guitarists, can be infectious and prog influences aside, immensely catchy. Their set, a short 45 minutes over 8 songs, covered their new singles (‘Submarine’, and ‘Dreamer’, the single from the Australian Eurovision qualifiers), and no more than two tracks from each of the last four albums. As a long time fan, I was overjoyed to get to see some older tracks sprinkled in the end, including the Meaning of I and Ascension, to go along with ‘Colours’ and ’Brightstar’ off of their last crowdfunded full-length, Colours in the Sun. What stage Voyager was able to use as an opener was framed by a number of LED light poles roughly the size of industrial fluorescent lights that changed colors and synced via computer appropriate to the song being played (rainbow for ‘Colours’, sea green for ‘Submarine’).
Having not seen Voyager since their last set in the US in 2018, I thought they were in amazing form, easily two of the best shows I’ve seen from them.
Finally, on came VOLA, the headliners. They play a distinctive blend of lyrically moody and thoughtful prog metal, with a djent guitar sound giving it heaviness. Each song has its own dynamism deftly done through the use of synths and keyboards. The melodic synth riffs provide a coating of accessibility over what would normally be an inaccessible prog metal base. The difference between VOLA and the openers: the openers relied nearly completely on backing tracks for their synth and keyboards (excepting a turn on the keytar from Voyager), while VOLA played probably some 70-80 of the music on stage during their set. Everyone plays a part, whether it’s synths from the bassist, keys from Martin Werner, or electronic percussion, someone is providing depth and a new dimension to each track. Asger Mygind provides the vocals and the guitar, and gives a surprisingly textured vocal performance for a metal act. If you are a percussionist, Adam Janzi is not to be missed, he’s one of the best new drummers in the scene. Over an 85 minute set covering 16 tracks, VOLA took the crowd on a musical journey that started melodic and proggy, with performances of ‘24 Light Years’, ‘Alien Shivers, and ‘Ruby Pool’, then turning up the heaviness crescendoing with ‘These Black Claws’, ‘Ghosts’, ‘Head Mounted Sideways’ and ‘Smartfriend’, which caused the crowd on the floor at Melkweg to evolve from a headbanging/bobbing crowd to a moshing pit of humanity. The set closed with a two song encore that brought the crowd back to a mellow, melodic beginning, with ‘Whaler’ and ‘Inside Your Fur’, each somewhat surprising closers, since neither come up as particularly popular tracks online. Yet, the ending is very satisfying and leaves the listener wanting to hear more.
Luckily for those of us in the US, there is an opportunity for more, as VOLA will be touring the northeast, including The Sanctuary in Hamtramck in November. Based on these two shows, VOLA are a group heading to the top of their game, and they should not be missed when they come to town.
Images: Vola, then Voyager