It’s difficult being compared to other bands. I’m afraid that Polish dark progressive rockers Votum have been unfairly compared to other Polish bands (who will remain nameless) for as long as they have been active. Slowly, but surely, the band have created their own unique sound; one that culminated in “Harvest Moon” a few years ago.
Along the way, they won my admiration. I’d even say that they are a top five favorite band of mine. There’s just something about the emotion, the bass grooves, and the amazing guitar work that really jives with me. So, with Votum’s fourth album due to release in the next couple weeks, you can be sure that I am excited to see what the future holds for them. Like their new album :KTONIK:, however, it might be a little uncertain. As you can tell from my above rating, I really like the album. But that comes with a few drawbacks I want to discuss, too.
:KTONIK: represents a new page for Votum, in more ways than one. I’d even go so far as to say that any big fans out there should be ready to hear an album that is nothing like their first three. Indeed, these dark proggers have officially, in my mind, stepped into the realm of progressive metal fully, and the result is that Votum is now a completely different band. Even though most of the members remain, this band is not the same as it was. I think any review of this album must start with that understanding.
So, who are these guys? Votum’s newest line-up consists of Bartosz Sobieraj on vocals, Piotr Lniany and Adam Kaczmarek on guitars, Zbigniew Szatkowski on keyboards, Bartek Turkowski on bass, and Adam Lukaszek on drums. Yes, there are two new names in there, as Piotr has replaced Alek Salamonik on guitar and, more importantly, Bartosz has replaced Maciej Kosinski on vocals (more on that later). Overall, :KTONIK: keeps the darkness that Votum is well-known for, but heaps giant riffs and a more metallic overall structure over top the other elements of their music from the past. The result is an album that lacks the whimsy, personal pain, and storytelling of their first few albums, though it is certainly more explosive and definitely heavier, as well. While their older albums were driven by emotion and agonizing rawness, this new sound consists more of colors, abstractions, textures, and, above all, mood. These are just observations, not judgments.
But I think we have to talk about the elephant in the room here. I have to be blunt and say that Bartosz is a completely different type of singer than Maciej, and it feels as if the band wrote the album around his vocal capabilities. That was the smart thing to do, as other bands have tried to force the new singer to emulate the old. In the process, though, Votum has become a completely different band. Maciej was always an emotional, very wordy, and very precise singer. His style evokes stories and images in your head that were clear and concise. That is why I loved his voice. However, Bartosz has a different style. He is far more abstract, vague, and sings far fewer lyrics. He loves to sing high, elongated notes that come across as more stylish than emotional, and there are almost no hooks to be found. Again, these are all observations, not judgments of any kind. Bartosz isn’t as readily recognizable, and I do often have trouble deciphering the lyrics he is singing. That is a bit of a shame, too, because the lyrics are excellent, creative, and reflect the pain I was looking for in a Votum album. They just don’t make it through the new vocal style, though. Overall, however, Bartosz has a great voice that definitely fits the new style of music.
As you may have deduced, the album is far more abstract, almost like highs and lows painted in grey. It dives into expressions of color and frequency with unbridled maturity. This is a far cry from the more careful tone of their older works. The promo art, then, is appropriate. :KTONIK: features some incredible guitar work with lots of distortion and riffing, though there is also plenty of high-tuned fingerwork, too. Bartek shines once again on bass (see “Spiral”), and continues to show why he is one of my favorites. More so than other albums, I really noticed Adam’s drumming. It is super precise, but also very technical. It seems they may have mixed the album differently this time to emphasize Adam’s work. Lastly, Zbigniew’s keys might be the last element that really tie this album to its predecessors. I’m not sure if I can give a higher praise than that!
My favorites on the album are the emotional single “Satellite”, the catchy bass grooves of “Spiral”, the solid progression of “Prometheus”, the heavy “Vertical”, and the soft exit of “Last Word”. All of these songs, and even the others on the album, are strong and very progressive, requiring effort to appreciate. In fact, I’d say that Votum might have become less accessible on :KTONIK:, what with the lack of catchy hooks or simplistic riffs. It’s a heady album full of powerful guitars, epic vocal passages, and spiraling keys.
Yet, even though the album is great, I do feel a little uneasy here. Votum is no longer Votum, and so my level of anticipation for the next album is decidedly lower. I just don’t get the goosebumps and nostalgia that I did in the past. I had been hoping to get another “Metafiction” some day, but it seems darker and heavier is the path they have chosen. I do enjoy it immensely from an objective standpoint, but I think old fans might be lost somewhere along the way. It’s almost like I’m reviewing the debut of a band I’ve never heard. In the end, :KTONIK: is an ominous album worthy of Votum’s past, though it seems their past is a topic they’d rather forget.