Votum - Harvest Moon

(CD 2013, 69:09, Mystic Production MYSTCD 232)

The tracks:
  1- Vicious Circle(8:13)
  2- Cobwebs(5:01)
  3- First Felt Pain(6:52)
  4- New Made Man(5:27)
  5- Numb(5:01)
  6- Ember Night(6:58)
  7- Bruises(7:43)
  8- Steps In The Gloom(7:51)
  9- Dead Ringer(6:51)
10- Coda(6:36)
11- Numb (Reprise)(2:34)

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It almost has been four years since the release of Metafiction (2009, see review), Votum's second album.  During this period this Polish band focussed on the release of Harvest Moon, their third album, as well as on touring. According to my most recent information Votum recorded their new album with the same line-up as their previous one, so I'm happy to listen to vocalist Maciej Kosiński, keyboardist Zbigniew Szatkowski, bassist Bartek Turkowski,  drummer Adam Lukaszek and  the guitarists Alek Salamonik and Adam Kaczmarek. However, the latter is not mentioned on their website, so I presume that he's no longer part of Votum's line-up. I was curious to find out whether Harvest Moon would continue the musical path of its predecessor or perhaps would take another road.

In my review of Metafiction I named Votum a light version of Riverside. At the time that was indeed the case I guess, but Votum have taken a step forward and is drifting away from the Riverside influences. The album's opener Vicious Circle has a short atmospheric intro, combining soundscapes with a relaxed guitar sound and on top a second guitar plays a solo. When Kosiński starts singing it strikes me how this super vocalist has evolved; his singing is very relaxed and clear. Halfway the song the power increases and another fine guitar solo caresses my eardrums. I still think that Kosinsky sings a bit in the vein of Paul Rarick (Tiles) especially in the higher regions, but I feel perfectly comfortable with it. The song Cobwebs completely differs from the band's repertoire: a slightly 'grunting' voice alternates with a voice that would easily fit on a Pearl Jam album. The heaviness of it really appeals to me, especially when mixed with the softer parts and the piano in the forefront. For me these are five minutes of pure ecstasy!

First Felt Pain contains an atmospheric soundscape in the background, but totally eclipsed by a killer guitar sound. At a certain point this composition again holds a strong interaction between softer melodic parts and furious guitars sounds. Especially during the keyboard parts, I hear some typical Steven Wilson soundscapes, but they always perfectly suit the song which I experience as 'comfortably unpredictable'. New Made Man starts as a happy song touching the borders of progressive rock and even beyond entering the alternative rock area. It wouldn't surprise me if Votum would get some airplay when this song should be released as a single, although the middle section possibly is too progressive for the average rock fan. Next is Numb, a kind of a semi-acoustic interlude. It contains a beautiful interaction between vocals, keyboards and guitar; the doubled vocals work real fine and the tribal drum sounds add something special. However, a weird soundscape finishes the song that gradually slackens my attention; I wonder why Votum have put this part halfway the album.

The album regains power with Ember Night with stunning staccato guitar play, a danceable beat and vocals that provide this piece with a very recognizable sound, although I can't recall any similarities. To me the guitar sounds on this song are the catchiest ones of the entire album. Bruises is a kind of epic that opens softly and building up to the end. The acoustic parts remind me of Pink Floyd, while the singing is strong and emotional; another highlight for Maciej Kosiński. On Steps In The Gloom, Votum prove not to be afraid to put some jazz elements into their music; especially the adventurous drums combined with the keyboards are responsible for this jazzy atmosphere. Vocally this is a more laid-back composition that gives the instrumentalists a chance to dominate. Listen for instance to the bass duelling with the guitar.

Dead Ringer seems to be influenced by David Bowie; the vocals combined with the bass and the drums have a touch of this famous rockstar. This piece has a nineties prog metal feel as well, for which drummer Adam Lukaszek has to be credited. His flawless drumming perfectly fits the heavy guitars. Again this song ends with a kind of ambient synth playing. Coda returns to the powerful combination of progressive metal with a touch of Pearl Jam slightly influenced by Tool. It's an outstanding composition with a spoken part in the middle section and a synthesizer sound that ends the song. The album closer Numb is a reprise of the earlier version, but this time the song is restricted to only acoustic guitars and intense singing; a nice way to end an album.

After a couple of spins of Harvest Moon, I was convinced that the album would end up with the maximum rating. By judging the progression and diversity it would only be fair to grant them five stars. The only thing that kept me from giving the album a masterpiece rating are the rather dull atmospheric synthesizer parts that end some of the songs and sometimes slightly disturb the continuity of the album. So eventually the album gets the same rating as the previous one and is highly recommended. Votum have stepped out of the shadows of Riverside and went their own outstanding way.

****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)

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