Review: Volvopenta – Simulacrum

Simulacrum is the sophomore full-length effort from Volvopenta, a post-rock quartet based in Mülheim, Germany. Following on from 2017’s Yoshiwara, a well-received debut, it features more of the sound that they have cultivated and made their own, with precise yet restrained guitar work, interplaying carefully and cleverly between Marcus Kreyhan and Stefan Claudius, backed up by the tight rhythm section of André David and Kai Spriestersbach.

Due at the end of February on Tonzonen Records (who also released Taumel’s There Is No Time To Run Away From Here), Volvopenta lead their listener upon a moving journey that has plenty of bumps scattered along the smooth surface.

Volvopenta's album Simulacrum
Volvopenta’s second album Simulacrum

Simulacrum kicks off with watery guitars that introduce ‘Kargus’, a pensive slow burner that gradually accelerates and crescendos for four minutes before we hear the first vocals of the album. The morose, emotional vocals are often used as a fifth instrument for dynamism rather than to take the spotlight, as much of the music is instrumental and when a given track has no singing, this tends to pass unregistered.

In ‘Kargus’, they denote the climax of the song, only present for around a minute before the band gently wind down into the more psychedelic-tinged ‘Tele 81’, with a jaunty opening riff reminiscent of Tool. Minimalist at its core, it evolves with a push-and-pull effect on the listener that further evokes the esteemed Los Angeles progressive rockers as the song goes on. ‘Barfly’, a mellow instrumental jam, largely has the same effect as the two before it.

‘Central Human Agency’ ushers in the ‘CD-only’ section of the release with a dark, creepy guitar line dripping with delay above sinister-sounding spoken words. Evolving into an elegant final third where the vocals become a tortured yell, it allows the song to stand out as somewhat of a stylistic departure compared to the rest of the album. Certainly, it is a nod to Volvopenta’s heavier influences.

The tranquil albeit mournful first interlude then provides a bass guitar-driven breath of air to lead up to ‘Ghost’, an unconventional journey of dark psychedelia. Synth-heavy, an experimental approach to harmony by the bass guitar produces a somewhat unsettling feeling that enhances ‘Ghost”s colour and taste. The very brief ‘Interlude 2’ serves as this song’s (brighter) epilogue. These CD exclusives shine a light on Volvopenta’s wider palette, and at times seem among the more “instant” tracks on Simulacrum.

Kolonie 56 official video

The calm bleakness of ‘Kolonie 56’ fades into ‘One to Five’, which effectively utilises noise, shimmering guitar effects and an atypical percussive rhythm to conjure up interest. Full of contrast and experimentation, it seems that as the album’s penultimate track it will be considered a hidden gem of the record.

The multi-layered ‘Flint’ is a simple but effective closer; gentle, moody and hypnotic, barely indicating its lengthy eight-minute runtime. This is yet another example of Volvopenta’s mastery of the instrumental number; where, despite the conspicuously placed vocals in the two preceding songs, the listener hardly notices their absence during ‘Flint’, the longest track on Simulacrum.

The complementary guitar interplay is an impressive aspect throughout, although the vocal performance is not particularly strong. Sung melodic ideas are at times inconsistently executed, especially on ‘Ghost’ and ‘Kolonie 56’, where a few notes fall flat. However, their imperfect nature does create a certain desolate vibe and ultimately they rarely lie anywhere near the forefront of the mix, at least prior to latter songs.

The singing is emotional enough to feel authentic, which is arguably more important than a technically flawless showing. Accompanied appropriately by the equally emotional instrumental backing, Volvopenta show full awareness of how to paint a picture in the mind’s eyes of their listeners. Volvopenta frequently exhibit a moody and hollow atmosphere in an artful way without ever coming across as irritating and whiny.

Cover production for the LP

It’s an unfortunate reality that sophomore albums will always be compared to their predecessors, and ultimately, Simulacrum does not quite hit the same heights as Yoshiwara, which really saw Volvopenta fire upon all four cylinders creatively. Simulacrum seems much more risk averse in comparison, with the songs following more of a formulaic approach than before.

Regardless, this is still a good effort from the German quartet. With secrets that only unveil themselves upon repeated listens, fans of the post-rock genre universally would be to do themselves a favour by allowing Volvopenta to lull them into their world.

‘Simulacrum’ is out now via Tonzonen Records.

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