Album Review: Votum – ‘:KTONIK:’

Votum are a very interesting band for me to cover, as Polish metal bands don’t usually cross my radar (indeed, the only Polish band I can think of at the minute is Axe Crazy…and even that was only because I covered them earlier this year!). However, Votum are not a new band, forming in 2002 and having released three previous albums (2008’s Time Must Have a Stop, 2009’s Metafiction and 2013’s Harvest Moon). The band’s lineup was consistent for their previous three albums, but, since the release of Harvest Moon, the band have had lead vocalist Maciej Kosinski and guitarist Aleksander Salamonik leave the band, with newcomers Bartosz Sobieraj and Piotr Lniany replacing them on vocals and guitar respectively. The rest of the band’s lineup, for those not aware of the band, are guitarist Adam Kaczmarek, keyboardist Zbigniew Szatkowski, drummer Adam Lukaszek (who is not a founding member of the band himself, having joined in 2007 to replace Piotr Uminski, but has played on all of their studio albums) and bassist Bartek Turkowski, who may be familiar to some people due to being part of the atmospheric progressive metal band Dianoya.

Votum are also noteworthy because, according to the promo sheet I’ve been given, they are the creators of the New Wave of Polish Prog (or NWPP, which seems like an odd acronym to me…) and, as such, are one of the most influential Polish progressive metal bands. I can’t verify how accurate this is, but I will say from the start that I have never heard anything quite like Votum before now, so this could be true!

Anyway, moving on to the actual review and saving my rambling for another time, :KTONIK: is a really interesting album. While I will admit that it’s not something I personally would want to listen to more of, there is a lot to say about it which is really interesting and should make this worth a look into if you’re into progressive music.

Votum artwork

The band’s sound is one that can only be summed up as “progressive metal”, because nothing else can really do it justice. Much like Nevermore, the band’s sound is one that is really hard to put into a single genre, as they include atmospheric elements to their sound which give the whole album a faintly ambient feeling, they include electronica elements which add a rarely heard dimension to the band’s progressive metal sound and yet they still include strong progressive metal elements in their sound which makes it easy to pin them down as progressive metal, but the other elements to their sound makes it difficult, if not impossible, to simply write them off as just a progressive metal band, because none of the big progressive metal bands out there play anything like this. It’s a really unique sound and I’d be lying if I said that I couldn’t see a lot of people being influenced by this sound, because it’s an incredibly engaging sound which I can really see gaining the interest of fans of progressive music. It’s not my personal cup of tea, if I’m being completely honest, but the band’s sound is one which I can’t help respecting, because it is surprisingly difficult to sound unique in this day and age and Votum do an excellent job at it!

The songwriting is also genuinely impressive, with a lot of depth to it. This is definitely an album to listen to more than once, because there’s a lot which you might miss on the first listen! The material is generally on the slower side of things, which sits poorly with me on a personal level because I feel they overdo the slower material and the whole album feels like it drags to me, but it is still well written and it is easy to appreciate what the band are doing on the album, which makes this very much a case of different strokes for different folks. The songs which are undeniable hits with me are single ‘Satellite’ (which is a solid track overall) and ‘Simulacra’ (which brings the speed up very well without compromising the band’s sound), but, being completely honest, I can’t say that I felt any of the songs were badly written: I just feel that a bit more variety to the material’s tempos could have made the album more enjoyable to listen to, because, as an album, it just drags a bit too much for my liking and a few faster songs might have remedied this.

The performances on the record are fairly good. While anyone who comes into the album expecting performances on the same level as those seen in Dream Theater will almost certainly be disappointed, there is certainly a lot of talent on display in Votum, though it shows itself in a more subtle way than Dream Theater do. I can’t fault any of the members of their performances on the record, because they all do solid jobs overall. I think the highlight performance would probably be the guitars overall, because the variety of techniques they show off is quite impressive, but, really, nobody does a bad job on the technical side of things.

Sobieraj’s vocals are interesting, because they remind me a bit of Khan’s due to their fairly smooth tone, but he has his own style which makes calling him a Khan clone completely inaccurate (and more than a bit unfair). His style is arguably a bit more akin to that of James LaBrie with the smoothness of Khan and with a strong Polish accent (for understandable reasons!), but not having the range of either. His voice is definitely not bad and his control to his voice is truly impressive, but I doubt anyone will look to him as one of progressive metal’s iconic vocalists. I can’t say how he compares to his predecessor, but I will stress that he’s not a bad vocalist in his own regard and there’s nothing I can really fault his voice for beyond his vocal range (which isn’t especially impressive, but he isn’t bad either).

The production on the album is mostly very good, as the mixing is very good (I think the bass could have been a bit louder, but it is definitely present and audible once you tune your ears into it), the mastering is acceptable (I would have preferred a bit less volume on the mastering side, but it’s not to the extremes where my reaction would be to complain about it too angrily) and the overall sound on the record is very good, with the drums and guitars sounding particularly great overall.

So, overall, despite my personal dislike of the album in terms of its actual sound, I have to admit that :KTONIK: is actually a very good album, though still flawed in a way that I feel could potentially be its Achilles heel. The combination of genres is very well done, the songs are well written, the production is well done overall and the performances, while not the best in the genre, are very good. My only real concern is that I think the songs on the album are a bit too similar sounding in terms of tempo, which, due to the relatively slow speed of most of the album, could make it difficult to enjoy as an album. However, that’s my only real concern about the album, so, while I doubt that I personally will be listening to this in the future, I have to give this a recommendation to prog fans, because it hits all of the things that good prog should do and it does them well.

:KTONIK: was released on the 26th of February by Inner Wound Recordings. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.