It almost seems unfair to pass judgement on a band like Vorstellan, who barely have a profile or even a catalogue to their name at this point. But it’s ultimately a necessary thing to do, especially when the band themselves have forgone any gradual buildup in favour in diving right in and releasing a full-length album as their first significant lot of material. That in itself can be a major risk – chances are the sound won’t be fully formed yet and the result can come across as even less impressive than easing it in through a couple of EPs – but there’s also a certain degree of bravery that Vorstellan can be commended for. For a band who aren’t even on the board yet, going in in such a make-or-break fashion from the off screams of an impressive amount of dedication, with the results being almost imperative to where they end up. As such, considering Encephalon is such an infinitesimally small entity in the wider world of rock music, it’s an important entry in Vorstellan’s work, particularly if they’re looking to forge any long term goals from this.
But from all that buildup comes a pretty sizable fall, as Encephalon positively screams of a band who simply aren’t ready for what they’re trying to fast-track themselves into. The intent is without question, but Vorstellan come across as too inexperienced to make it work in their favour. Therefore, the result is an overcooked, fairly bland album that wants to be sweeping and resonant, but only ends up more surface-level with every listen. It’s barely even memorable at the best of times, and when Vorstellan’s sights are set so high, it just makes the subsequent drop-off so much more noticeable.
It’s not like they’re giving themselves much to work with from the start, mind, opting for a post-grunge / nu-metal hybrid that’s filtered through a bit of Britrock scale to sound marginally less turgid, but still not all that much better. Whereas a track like My Disaster is a bit more raw and aggressive in its initial guitar work, Encephalon ends up defaulting to a very bland, slow palate of post-grunge sounds with the intent to be anthemic that rarely sticks the landing. There’s a bit more to that in A Thousand Smiles that suitably hits a lighters-in-the-air space that’s not all that original but it’s likable enough, but the sluggish, forced sense of dynamics introduced on the opener Monster prevail almost across the board, and it can turn this album into a real chore to listen to. At least there’s a meatiness to the guitars that’s something of a saving grace regardless of how any modulation or tone besides guttural, sludgy lows has been sandblasted away, but a universal weakness in the sound of the drums and a lack of any groove from the bass really does bring it down severely, to where volume becomes the only thing this album has going for it a disproportionate amount of the time. As for Jacob Knight’s vocals, he’s trying his best for tense emotionality and tormented purging, but between an unflattering vocal mix and a range that’s more akin to a flatter Andy Biersack than anything really potent, it doesn’t leave much of an impression besides how impenetrable it can be all be. There’s really not a good amount of depth in sound here; it’s an imposing presence but it’s all rather shallow, and Vorstellan’s lack of ability to work around that shows by how uninspiring this album can be.
It’s a similar case with the writing, though to Vorstellan’s credit, a portrayal of depression and damaged mental health that’s as trite as theirs is a pitfall that far bigger bands continue to fall into. That doesn’t exactly let them off the hook though, as the pretty dull execution stems down to here as well and, apart from the vocal snippets a Christopher Eccleston soundalike for a therapist to string this into some form of narrative, there’s not a lot here. Hell, song titles like Monster, Novocaine and My Disaster are pretty clear giveaways, and when they do little more than invoke what’s expected of them from even those cursory impressions, it’s clear that there’s room for a bit more adventurousness here. Credit can be given for Knight trying to sell bleeding-heart vulnerability in a very raw and unpolished manner, but a lyric like “Welcome to my world, where demons come to play” can really upend that intended sincerity through just how melodramatic and, frankly, clichéd it is. There’s scant evidence of Vorstellan applying their own ideas to what they’re doing, and the generally lackluster final product shows how necessary they are.
It goes without saying, then, that Encephalon really isn’t indicative of a band ready to vault directly to prime time, but it’s hard to say what it shows at all. Vorstellan evidently have ambition but they don’t show much that could lead them to what they want, and when so much of this album comes across as tired, lumpen or just dull, it becomes quite clear that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. It’s ultimately the danger of jumping in at the deep end before being properly primed to make the leap, but in doing so, it’s left a mediocre first impression that either needs to be redeemed sooner rather than later, or will be a cross for Vorstellan to bear until they can actually rectify it. Hopefully that’ll eventually come, but right now, there’s not a lot of hope.
For fans of: Cold, Evans Blue, Crossfade
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Encephalon’ by Vorstellan is released on 8th May.