The Fleece, Bristol
Tuesday, 27th September 2022
A trio of intriguing bands arrive at The Fleece for the first of three UK show in an extensive month-long European tour, and the fans are out in force. The venue is well chosen, providing an intimate space that allows the packed house to sample the delights on offer, an incongruous contrast with the massive tour bus parked out front.
I had the pleasure of seeing Vola supporting Devin Townsend at the Royal Albert Hall in April, but this is an entirely different kettle of fish to the show in that cavernous space. More of that later, and with an excellent sound for all three bands, there was much to enjoy…
Four Stroke Baron
I had no idea what to expect from this trio from Nevada in the USA “that over 7 billion people don’t know about” (as noted on their Facebook page), but they could be heard from outside while the queue slowly snaked into The Fleece, and it sounded intriguing. It was immediately apparent once inside that their interesting blend of tech metal, dance rhythms and progressive poppy punk (if there even is such a thing), using backing tracks and vocal effects to fill out the sound, was a gripping mix that held the attention for the remainder of the set.
With singer/guitarist Kirk Witt front and centre, the focal point came from the antics of the (name unknown to me) bass player, whirling about and throwing cheekily odd shapes with his 5-string, adding the movement and momentum that the music called for. Behind and to the left of Witt, drummer Matt Vallarino hammered away with abandon, the playing from all three to a very high standard. The bass was a bit low in the mix but that didn’t harm the overall effect too much.
Announcing themselves as coming from “your favourite country”, following that up with an ironic “1776…”, Four Stroke Baron went down particularly well and no doubt gained a large number of new fans from this show. I’ll definitely be checking out their recorded works.
[Website | Facebook | Bandcamp]
All the way from down-under, appearing the right way up as second act on the bill, we have Voyager. This band from Perth in Australia have floated on the periphery of my radar for some time, but having failed to check them out previously, this live experience would be my first taste – and it was an engrossing affair right from the start. Full-on riffing heaviness is mixed with plenty of accessible melody, all performed by an energetic and enthused quintet.
The engaging performance immediately got the crowd on side and with the fine voice of Danny Estrin up front, they could do no wrong. The appearance of Estrin’s Keytar for a couple of songs was a welcome addition, and the poppier end of their spectrum was represented by the band’s offering as this year’s Australian Eurovision entry (!), Dreamer.
A humorous aside came from Estrin as he noted an overheard conversation on the streets of Bristol earlier in the day (whilst eating a pie), describing two blokes discussing retaining walls as “the most British thing I’ve ever heard!”
The many-hued nature of tracks like opener Colours threw brightness into the set, highlighted by effective use of lighting tubes around the stage, including a hand-held version which Estrin brandished on occasion. The playing from all was excellent, with particular mention for the stunt guitar work from Simone Dow. There’s a distinct groove to their heavy vibe and the crowd lapped it up as the band worked through tracks from their last three albums, V, Ghost Mile and Colours in the Sun. An excellent and likeable set from a very likeable band; I won’t be hesitating to see them again should the opportunity arise.
The Meaning of I
Simone Dow – Guitars
Alex Canion – Bass, Backing Vocals
Scott Kay – Guitars
Ashley Doodkorte – Drums
The stage is set for the arrival of Vola.
The Danish/Swedish collective have developed into a formidable force and one of the more noteworthy prog metal bands, as evidenced by their selection (alongside Leprous) to support Devin Townsend at his brace of shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London last spring. Here they return with their own show, and a full set from Vola is highly worthy of your attention. The band is a stunning mix of technicality and well structured songs, heavy in melody and rhythmic assault and deploying a djenty sound in a particularly accessible way, guitarist Asger Mygind using his 7-string to fine effect. Their take on the genre is a slow-burn and epic style, held together by Mygind’s vocals.
Their well-received and very impressive latest album Witness is heavily featured in the set, starting with the busy warmth of opener 24 Light Years, its skittering drums and Mygind’s honeyed croon setting the scene perfectly, with good supporting vocals from bassist Nicolai Mogensen. It’s melodic and head-banging all at the same time, the heaviness continuing into a mighty Alien Shivers.
It isn’t long before drummer Adam Janzi inevitably removes his shirt, but he no doubt needs to cool down as his pedal barrage consistently attempts to punch a hole through his kick drum. The cross-cutting rhythms and his swinging style come through in the Porcupine Tree influenced Napalm, while Head Mounted Sideways integrates an onslaught of djent.
It’s not all heaviness and intensity though as Ruby Pool adds a lighter oasis of calm, as does Enter delivered as an acoustic piece by Mygind alone. Elsewhere, Ghosts and Stray the Skies are epic crowd pleasers while a sinister These Black Claws opens out into a beautifully weighted chorus, the backing vocals adding to the effect.
Throughout, the quartet are a well-oiled machine and inch perfect in their delivery of these complex songs which frequently suggest two different pieces being played at once, the busy rhythms at odds but blending with the melodic lines to create something new. The effect is accentuated by the breathtakingly effective lighting, as seen in the Live from the Pool streamed concert last year, rods of variable light and patterns dancing across the stage.
Smartfried takes things in a different direction, edgy and djent fuelled with almost rapped verses. A magnificent Straight Lines ends the main set, the band enthusiastically called back for an encore. They return, led by Janzi who cheekily gestures to confirm that the crowd do indeed want him to retake his drum stool. They are rewarded by a huge and menacing Whaler, followed by the inevitable Inside Your Fur; a rousing way to finish a fantastic evening of top quality music, heavy but in no way forsaking melody.
Put simply, Vola are world class. With all due respect to the wonderful Fleece, they should be playing at much bigger places, and I doubt we’ll see them here again. Tonight was an astounding performance and they deserve to be massive. Drawing a full house on a cold Tuesday is good going, but they’re certainly ready to make a mark at the next level, and they deserve that success.
Stray the Skies
We Are Thin Air
Your Mind Is a Helpless Dreamer
These Black Claws
Head Mounted Sideways
Inside Your Fur
Martin Werner – Keyboards
Nicolai Mogensen – Bass
Adam Janzi – Drums