It is a tenet of stylistic works — those in a given style or genre — that sooner or later someone will come along and realign the creative conversation back toward its roots. One could easily argue this is how doom itself came about, with bands seeing the heavy metal of their time, being dissatisfied, and choosing an approach more closely related to Black Sabbath. Swedish trio Vokonis, who make their debut with Olde One Ascending via Ozium Records, would seem to be interested in a similar adjusting of trajectory. Surrounded in a crowded Scandinavian market by boogie rock or blistering doom, guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, bassist/backing vocalist Jonte Johansson and drummer Emil Larsson push in an different direction and one the thick grooving of which can be traced directly to Sleep.
With Ohlsson and Larsson having released a demo last year called Temple (review here) through Btnk Cllctv, the long-player doesn’t necessarily represent their first statement of intent in this regard, but its cohesion of purpose and message come through clearer than any demo could. Olde One Ascending — even the title seems to call for a return to old(e) ways — comprises six tracks/48 minutes of what by now should be considered classic stoner metal, a blend of Sabbathian doom, Sleepy heavy riffing and tales of epic battles, monsters, and is presented in thick, full sound with zero pretense. Vokonis know what they’re doing as they gallop into the midsection of “Acid Pilgrim,” as they space out at the start of “Olde One,” and as they shuffle their way through the end of “Hazmat, the Ashen Rider.”
Despite a somewhat extended (for vinyl) runtime, Olde One Ascending divides neatly into two halves, each with three songs. Four of the six total inclusions run somewhere around eight minutes long, and the shorter tracks, “Acid Pilgrim” (6:56), which closes side A, and “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” (7:45), which closes side B, aren’t far off, but Vokonis use the space in their material well to pull off a number of different vibes, whether that comes through in the rolling nod as “Olde One,” which opens, lurches to life from its subdued, building intro with an immediately striking tonal impression from Ohlsson and Johansson as they riff out à la Sleep‘s “The Druid” en route to a shouted verse. As the newcomer in the band, Johansson stands up well to Ohlsson‘s thick guitar, punching through to the fore of the mix as Larsson indulges Hakius-style snare work beneath the dual vocals.
Caveman shouts for choruses will become something of a theme as Vokonis make their way through “The Serpent’s Alive” and “Acid Pilgrim,” but the interweaving of solos and rhythm guitar and bass add further distinction to their processes, “The Serpent’s Alive” in particular tripping out on a more languid, Iommically layered guitar lead before its crash-heavy ending. “Acid Pilgrim” is the shortest cut on Olde One Ascending, but still has plenty of time to kill slumber, like the rays of the new red sun arising at its start and provide a more individual feel as it plays back and forth in between-line twists of riff before an “ough!” kicks into a few more thrashing measures — the aforementioned gallop — and a fuzzy solo takes hold underscored by more righteous bass. Vocals don’t return until the final slowdown, calling the titular Acid Pilgrim to come home as the first half of the record rumbles to its conclusion.
Riffy trauma holds sway for the bulk of side B as well, but it’s in the final three songs — “Shroomblade,” “King Vokonis Plague” and “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” — that the listener gets more of a sense of the world these songs are inhabiting, somewhere between medieval battles and the snow-covered, monster-laden ground of Olde One Ascending‘s cover art by Tessa Najjar. Past its midsection solo, also layered, “Shroomblade” finds Johansson taking the fore with Larsson as the guitar quits down for a classic stoner jam of marked funktitude. They soon enough shake the earth with their plod once more, but this is their first album, so one is always looking for clues as to where progression might lead.
The longest track at 8:54, “King Vokonis Plague” no doubt offers some clues in that regard as well through its fluid rhythm and departure from the solo-into-jam structure that the bulk of the record exhibits. Instead? The riffs, the hook, a bit of winding push, and a shorter solo, which leads them back to a closing verse so that the subdued first measure of “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” is duly contrasted in volume. Kicking in quickly, “Hazmat the Ashen Rider” has the advantage of being exceedingly catchy and something of a basic statement of mission/summary of what Vokonis accomplish on their first album, whether that’s in proffering heavy riffing, tripping out for a lead or upping the pace toward the end for a last-minute upbeat finale that ends cold. Through all of this, Vokonis reinforces their argument of what “heavy,” as a sonic concept, is all about, and they bring a sense of freshness and purity of intent to back them up that makes it difficult to find a counterpoint. Maybe it is time everybody just riffed out.