Volumes – No Sleep: Music Review

Volumes are a Los Angeles based metal band that jumped on the early trend in the late 2000’s of what is now called Djent – terminology used to describe a certain picking style. The sound is borderline robotic, usually down tuned to the frequency that of a freight train, and is accompanied by immaculate production. With an EP released in 2010 and two full-length records, Volumes popularity for their live performances, use of two vocalists, and their experimentation has gained them notoriety in the underground.

Volumes (2014)

I caught word about Volumes my freshman year of college when I was still living at home. Buddies of mine who got me into metal that still lived near me were fans at the time. Because I was sticking to my guns with bands I was familiar with, I never really gave Volumes a chance. I hadn’t really heard this digital-groove-core stuff that this band kind of falls under, because I was still refining my taste. At this point, I was being exposed to the much angrier, frenetic side to extreme subgenres such as grindcore, traditional death metal, sludge, and black metal. Most of that was through old co-workers whom I spent on average of eight hours a day with, so my understanding of the genre began to evolve. When I left for Winona State and began to further explore the more melodic side of new school metal, I began to appreciate the kind of intensity and pinpoint precision modern metal can offer. I ended up catching Volumes live on tour in Minneapolis last March – which was actually my first time ever listening to them. They put on a good show, had fun on stage, and I even got to meet two members of the band. Even with that experience, I still didn’t take the chance to listen to them on my own until I went to Best Buy to pick up the new Memphis May Fire record and I made small talk with an employee. Fan to fan, he was talking up the new Volumes album along with a few new releases on the sales rack. Soon after that discussion, I was killing time on Spotify and I pulled up their new full-length record, No Sleep.

No Sleep album cover

Track Reviews
The album comes out of the gate with The Mixture. With a good set of speakers and the bass cranked, this song’s down tuned, gated guitar tone and bass line hits you like a crowbar. The groove oriented, bouncy riffs and breakdowns set the bar for what to expect on this album. It’s a mosh pit harbinger and one of my favorites on the album for its pervasive intensity and novelty.
The first song I heard was Erased – a more dynamic track with clean vocals and a nu-metal/ hip hop like bounce to it. As it turns out, the clean singing is a newer element the band expanded on this record, with songs like this. The verses and the bridge were extremely catchy, but the way that they contrast against the screaming and breakdowns works well for this song.
Across the Bed follows suit with the melodic and atmospheric timbre showcased on Erased and instrumental interlude, Better Half. This song’s hard rock driven power chords and soaring background samples make this an accessible track. Expanding on the experimentation, the chorus offers a dyadic fusion of breakdowns and clean singing that actually retains its intensity quite well. I would even consider it one of my favorite moments on this album.
Pistol Play continues the tenacious formula of atmospheric breakdowns and prog. metal precision. The middle of the song boasts a catchy guitar riff that illuminates the vocal lines that was the more memorable moment in this song.

Volumes, live.

Instrumentation/ Songwriting
Some of the courtesies of the more groove oriented progressive metal include low tunings; 7,8, or even 9 string guitars (yes, I am talking to you After the Burial); complementary and mechanic like drum work; and digital aged engineering.
Volumes stay true to all of these aspects and rely on them heavily seeing as how they are considered by some to be some of the pioneers in the Djent movement.
To some, this band may seem like a run-of-the-mill new generation prog metal outfit with a boring style. I can understand their perspective, but I think Volumes brings something unique to the table… diversity.
When I turn on this record, I hear a palate of influences. Gus Farias and Michael Barr are solid vocalists who do an excellent job of exchanging lines throughout this album. Their effectiveness and individual ranges remind me of the reasons why bands like Despised Icon chiseled a name for themselves in the underground (even though these are two very different bands). More than that, Farias and Barr are definite understudies of hip-hop in the way that they write lines that compliment the grooves.  As a fan of hip-hop, I enjoy hearing that kind of attention to detail. In addition, guitarist and bassist Diego Farias (brother of Gus) and Raad Soudani (bass) have good ears to the worlds of metal and experimental rock. Aside from Djent, genres like nu-metal from the 1990’s and early 2000’s and instrumental post rock (bands like Explosions In the Sky) are foundations for the songwriting on this record. I know nu-metal is not a popular genre amongst the majority of metal fans, but the product of all these different genres coming together is impressive.

Volumes has a lot going for them as a band, are exploding with talent, and aren’t afraid to experiment, but a majority of the lyrics on this record are abhorrent. It’s honestly a shame that the content reverts to immature themes like debauchery and revenge. All over this album, songs like Up All Night, 91367, and Across the Bed are festooned with corny, unfitting, and tasteless lyricism that takes away from the experience. My assumption is that this was done in the name of accessibility to a wider fan base. If I really wanted to hear to such lyrical immaturity, I would go listen to Attila. Now, songs like Erased have some decent lyrics that illustrate drug addiction, but I wished there was more consistency. The band’s previous album, Via, has lyrics that runs the gamut from political narratives, broken relationships, and even the meaning of life… they were pretty good. The lyrics on No Sleep feel like a total regression by comparison. I have to drown out the lyricism for most of the record to actually enjoy the instrumental craftsmanship.

An achilles heel of modern metal is pushing the trend of hyper immaculate production to a fault. There have been records I have listened to that have been robbed of their substance, because the mix is so airtight. I like hearing the small nuances of instrumentation for the fact that it feels organic. Though Volumes certainly boasts clean production, their sound has come a long way. This record feels instrumentally robust and full for only having a guitar, bass, and drums. I can appreciate it when bands can generate a clean, refined, and polished sound that still retains its authenticity – Volumes did that on this record. Everything feels well balanced and sounds awesome in a decent pair of headphones or subs!

No Sleep boasts slamming sound, balanced instrumentals, and is armed with an amalgam of influences that make this record stand out… despite its lyrical pitfalls (The vocals do have good delivery to compensate). The replay value is high and I see big things happening for this band as they continue to mature and hone in on their unique brand of progressive metal.

Final Score: 82/100

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