In my reviews, I usually try to find a way to connect art to life, or an album to the grander musical universe. But I will cut to the chase. If you liked Born of Osiris’s The Discovery (and I know you did), just go pre-order The Voynich Code’s debut full-length Aqua Vitae, out May 5. I’ll wait. Now, let’s go through this record together. The Portuguese’s quintet’s debut full-length album is a progressive but relentlessly heavy, technical deathcore record.
You might not get this impression from the album’s beginning, however. The opening title track is a two and a half minute amalgamation of foreboding soundscapes, vocal samples, uplifting piano and gentle orchestrations that would not be out of place on a videogame score. It might seem odd to start such a record with a lengthy, peaceful introduction, but it builds the anticipation all the more. “Aurum” destroys any prior sense of serenity. Further, the group show their propensity for riffing in a scene dominated by chugs (however, there are plenty of those on the record as well). On lead single “I, The Weak”, The Voynich Code explore their fascination with esoteric intrigue on the haunting swells and synths of the song’s introduction. The Lisbon band has always had an impressive rhythm section, but the marked improvement of the guitar players Vinnie Mallet and Andre Afonso from where they were on debut EP Ignotum is considerable and especially evident later on in the record with “Hope II”.
Whereas contemporaries Shokran and Born of Osiris have considerably softened their sound with past releases, Aqua Vitae goes to heavier places than either aforementioned group. This intensity carries into even more melodic tracks like “Delusion”, featuring August Burns Red vocalist Jake Luhrs, with a catchy gang vocal. However, the darkest and most chaotic song on the record is “Born to Suffer”. Following the saccharine interlude “Hope I”, its opening onslaught of dissonant runs is comparable to Frontierer or The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza. Stop-start dynamics and constantly shifting rhythms show that The Voynich Code, and especially drummer Euler Morais, have an in-depth understanding of musicality that is apparent even in Aqua Vitae’s most brutal moments.
“Behind the Mirror” features Ed Garcia, the virtuoso guitarist behind Brazilian instrumental group Vitalism. His dazzling shredding complements the synths of the song for a track that, in many ways, evokes comparison to The Discovery’s “Behold”. The Voynich Code seem to take even more inspiration from that pivotal record’s ending “XIV” and “Behold”, closing Aqua Vitae with a brief interlude before the record’s longest track, “The Weight of a Mortal’s Soul”.
When I first heard Ignotum, The Voynich Code’s 2015 EP, I was immediately impressed but concerned that the group did not possess enough inventiveness to capture my interest for a full record. On Aqua Vitae, I was (thankfully) proven wrong. With effective pacing, notable technical capacity, and an enjoyable incorporation of synths and shred into rhythmically pummeling sections, this is a thoroughly enjoyable release. Although the group does not deviate much from their influences, they have created a record that easily matches, if not bests, comparable artists. Aqua Vitae is not the most inventive progressive deathcore album I’ve heard this year, but it is the most consistently entertaining.
Notable Tracks: “Born to Suffer”; “Behind the Mirror”; “Hope II”
FFO: The Discovery-era Born of Osiris, Shokran