Reading the band and personal histories of Sweden’s Loch Vostok is like a real life soap opera, with tales of “loss, stress, sorrow and chaos”. That’s interesting because in both recorded and live form, this is a band which puts it all out there with their intense and heavy progressive metal melodies, making their music easy to warm to. For me, “V: The Doctrine Decoded” (2012)” was their peak so far, marginally outweighing “Dystopium” (2011) in attraction but considerably better than the confused and confusing “From These Waters” (2015), which had momentary high points but was too ambitious to be effective or less charitably was just a bit of a mess.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I approached this album. The start is promising – great wavy effects under the tutelage of the incomparable soundmaster Jens Bogren, but more importantly a strong mix of melodic heaviness and the unique flyaway vocals of Teddy Möller, not to mention some menacing growls. “Babylonia Groove” is short but lays it all out there on the table. The riposte is a colourful riff promising much, but delivering dark crunchy chaos and a triumvirate of vocal styles. I confess that at first I concluded this mix wasn’t contributing anything to the uniformity of “Summer”, which has been released as a single, but this song has grown on me massively with repeat listens. It has a strong Soilwork like quality, but let’s give the credit to Loch Vostok themselves for the heavy sophistication they have created here. “Summer” is anything but summery, witness the lyrics including “One two three four, children better lock the door”. Musically it’s full-blooded and progressively catchy. The following track has a typical Loch Vostok type theme: “The Apologists are the Enablers”. This is a band, which likes to engage in world commentary and observation on failed human and political systems, but not without admitting “I could be wrong”. To go with the strength of utterances is powerful musical expression. I could picture flames rising as this hugely impactful track takes its course. “The Apologists are the Enablers” is vintage Loch Vostok. They then keep us on our toes with a bit of djent. Another strong point is the uniqueness of each song. The djent of “Cadence” fades into the background and provides the backdrop for a haunting and explosive number – quite a combination if you think about it. The atmosphere is as ever intense. This time the anarchic and chaotic structure matches the ferocious and agonised structure of the song. Teddy’s voice echoes ominously to start “Forever” before a typical Swedish melo rhythm strikes in. But all the time there is underlying darkness, which is reflected in the misery and epic climax. Its progress is gripping. Now it’s time for some “proper metal”, not that this album has ever been lacking in the dark metal department. The thrashing, flamboyant “Yurei” bowls along, alternating between a rapid fire progression, total oblivion and a faintly eastern style but distinctly progressive section. The fusion works, and adds further value to this interesting album. From progressive sophistication we are taken to a more punchy djenty, melodic metal piece. The dark scene is set. A bright guitar solo follows, the drums trigger and Teddy’s voice can be heard in the distance – “Purpose” is short but plays with us on a number of levels. Teddy now sounds in despair before exploding. The instrumentals are as uncompromising and hard as ever, breaking out in flamboyant fashion. “Detonate in hell” growls Teddy in response. After the fury of “Ventilate”, there’s almost child-like quality to the start of “Consumer”. The pace picks up. “You will never be free again” exhorts Teddy, as he exposes in tongue-in-cheek and cynical style the issues of the material world and consumerism. And it’s a cracking song thanks to its qualities of structural strength, power and catchiness. “Expiry Date of the Soul of Man” is a moody affair, and sums up the whole gloomy outlook in an uncharacteristically downbeat way.
Without question Loch Vostok’s creativity is here in spades. They are a disarmingly complex band. When you think you’ve got the measure of them, they add layers of powerful content to apparent accessibility and recognisable emotional angst. Where I didn’t like the previous album so much, with the appropriately titled “Strife” they have channelled their energy, captured vivid images and brought all the elements together. Where I had initial doubts about this album being in part laboured, I have listened to it again and not only dispelled this initial impression but derived massive enjoyment from doing so. At one point I doubted whether there was going to be a killer track along the lines of “A Mission Undivine”, “Citizen Cain” and even the title song of “From These Waters”. But “Summer” and “Consumer” then came to the fore for me. It’s the same with all the tracks. The intensity is always there, but the sophistication bursts out of the woodwork. I have found that each listen has resulted in greater rewards. Take a bow, Loch Vostok.
(9/10 Andrew Doherty)