Review: Vader And Friends

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Extra polished and extra Polish, plus offspring.

When a band like Vader looks at death metal today, they can deservedly say “I am your father.” Though they took some time to thrust into their trendsetting death-thrash mold, by the release of their second record, De Profundis, they were already a staple touring act across Europe and creating a new space for speed freaks left drifting after the explosion of the global thrash scene by the early 90s. Let’s not oversell Vader, they are just short of entry to the pantheon of death metal exemplars, perennial silver medalists as it were, but that’s still an elite level of influence to attain. I’d argue that bands like Vader, more than many truly boundary-pushing bands of their era, were essential in creating a workable template for solid death metal, a place for new bands to begin their journey without catching up to the technical extravagance of Death or Suffocation.

Of course, the only way I know this is through Wikipedia, because at that time I was flinging oatmeal and shitting my pants at the ripe old age of 2 months. In fact, my entire knowledge of Vader in general has been almost entirely academic until I started writing this. I’ve never been much of a Vader guy, probably because the first record I heard from them was a copy of Necropolis a friend pawned off on me, which is not one of their high points and did not inspire further interest. Which also means I’m now a fresh set of ears on a time capsule of a record, because De Profundis hasn’t seen a stateside physical release in 20 years. Now it’s Nuclear Blast Records to the rescue with a brand new, remastered, so-deluxe-it’ll-suck-your-dick pressing, and to honor the occasion, I’m going to give Vader the attention they deserve and see how this record stands up to some modern competition. What’s still sizzling on this slab, and what’s simmered down to steam?

For our consideration, the role of our widdle death metal Kylo Rens will be played by Craven Idol‘s Forked Tongues and Galvanizer‘s The Prying Sight Of Imperception, two workmanlike and functional releases with just enough charm to tempt me for a few extra spins. Now I’m certainly no subgenre taxonomist, but even I can tell that there’s plenty of black metal influence running through Craven Idol and plenty of grindcore in Galvanizer, but I believe they make fair points of comparison for being an extreme-metal-infused thrash band and a utilitarian, low-to-no-frills death metal band, respectively. Also they both came out a couple of weeks ago and I’m loving both of them, so that’s what we’re talking about.

Vader – De Profundis
With a brief scan of the death metal landscape in 1995, De Profundis feels like it’s part of a culmination. Fellow alumni of that year included Deicide‘s Once Upon The Cross (a stagnant time-filler) and Suffo’s Pierced From Within (a refined opus), that show the divergence in performance at the time. Tech and progressive death were already making ripples in the Florida scene, and the classical age of death metal was in the process of fading, a process that would conclude with the scene-busting release of Slaughter Of The Soul by the end of the year. De Profundis is, thankfully, a spirited and generous album that shows a dedication to effective songwriting, even if it wasn’t state of the art anymore by the time it reached the USA.

Chopping up “Sothis” and checking out its innards can show us some tricks to tight-packed, integrated songwriting. The sprinting, speedy part of that intro phrase? Eh, let’s change it to a percussive gallop instead, so it leads better into the gallopy riff we have planned after. Midway through, we’ll announce the bridge with a terse combo of chords, leaving plenty of empty space for the drums to fill beneath, then rev those same chords into a thrumming line of tremolo. In a very economical fashion, many of the motifs on De Profundis are pulling some double duty, introduced in one form for effect, then cranked into high gear once you have a grasp on them.

This is also an album that ‘churns’. Thrash convention demands spiky short riffs, repeated back-to-back for impact. The death metal infusion adds erratic jolts in direction and tonality within each fourfold cutlet that make up these building blocks. None of these riffs stretch your attention with sojourns across chord progressions and resolutions, they make their point quickly, and then they make it again. The opening to “Blood Of Kingu”, with its staggered lochrian descent, also hops up a couple of notches on the scale for flourish, confusing the sense of direction while the drums spin around you.

The leads are definitely showing their age a bit, though. Not quite impressive enough to justify having sections all to themselves, and not considered enough to mesh with the riffs underneath. Perhaps they were obligatory once upon a time, when even whirling chromatic stir-fry could be an essential part of a song’s identity (I mean, they learned it from Slayer, after all). But shred is no longer hegemonic across the metal world, and I feel like if a record like this were written today, with riffs this strong on their own, a band might be wise to just forgo the milquetoast soloing altogether in favor of letting the well-blended rhythms do the work. They don’t ruin anything, but there’s no reward for paying attention to them. De Profundis is still one tight-packed half-hour, and Vader is still always going to be one of those bands where the overall ride is more important than the individual songs. They’re very in love with the texture of palm-muting and dive bombs as much as any melodic motion, making it a muscular but scattered affair.

In terms of remastering, I’m not the guy to ask about sound quality or production. Apparently this is the first time we get a vinyl pressing of this album? Maybe you care about that, I don’t know what kind of life you lead. The CD completionist in me is glad for this, though, as I think I’ll be adding a few more Vader discs to my shelf soon to keep it company.

Galvanizer – The Prying Sight Of Imperception
Now that the autopsy is complete, let’s apply what we’ve learned to bold new fields of vivisection. The boys at Everlasting Spew Records certainly know their Seagrave-core, and Galvanizer’s debut release, Sanguine Vigil, was one of their curated standouts, a Vaderpoika raised among Finnish death metal. New release Prying Sight Of Imperception has a bit more on the brain, eyeing up Carcass for pointers on crawling, skewed strains, along with some overtly D-beat hooliganism for kicks. Consider “Servants Of The Scourge”, with a groovy punk beat that recurs when things threaten to tread into more heady waters. Can’t be having that on any self-respecting deathgrind record!

My same complaint from De Profundis applies here, though. Not only are the rare solos kinda throwaway, they’re also mixed fairly low beneath the rhythms. Must be a little stage fright. It would be smoother to just not have them, or construct something more modest and atmospheric in their place. In fact, the more melodic leads on offer all give a nice tug and have some unexpected directionality to them, like on “The Ever-Crescent”, which not only serves up a non-commital, muted semi-solo, but follows it up with a much cooler sorrowful melodic sequence to close out its final riffs, pronouncing the phoned-in nature all the more.

I think Galvanizer show enough ingenuity to make strong, distinctive ensemble riffs without needing to tack on solos that don’t do the job nearly as well. I hear it on the outro of “Chthonic Profanation”, probably my favorite track, where the rhythm guitars pound through an eerie rise-and-fall while the bassline creeps around beneath them, bubbling like a cauldron of boiling pitch. I wouldn’t give any of these songs points for originality, but they manage to find their own distinctiveness in the niche they’re trying to fill out, and show the flair that is necessary for a project like this to grab you instead of just remind you of better bands you want to switch to. After all, it’s not as if Galvanizer’s influences weren’t all trying to outdo each other along increasingly narrow fields, so if anything their adherence to the classics is just gravy, a meta-authenticity. I’d certainly put it as worthy accompaniment to De Profundis, even if it’s not a spotlight stealer.

Craven Idol – Forked Tongues

Craven Idol had their credentials double-stamped with their first two records at Dark Descent, and now it’s looking like they’ll be filled out in triplicate. Forked Tongues is a satiating chug from a charred chalice. Craven Idol have their eyes on a pretty sweet piece of stylistic real estate and are moved in for good. It’s racing, filthy black thrash, Venomous without conjuring up that band’s rock-and-roll bounce. The guitar comes coursing over the rocks with lots of hiss, encircled with shrill octaves from above and all sides like the hydra adorning the cover. The drums are an absolute maelstrom, too, staying in high gear while the songs heave from pure black metal buzzsaw to quivering thrash volleys.

With all that adjective-spewing out of the way, it’s a little hard to say anything about Forked Tongues. I wouldn’t say that it makes many ‘interesting’ choices, but it does make effective ones. It’s fair to say that those two concepts need not necessarily overlap, because it’s a rollicking good time regardless. They even have the confidence to stay away from shreddy solos, using slower melodic licks to keep the mood simmering and throw some new light on a riff after a few repetitions. I feel a lot of affection for the outro of “Forked Tongues”. There’s really no riff or melody to speak of, just pure momentum on the bottom string. It’s all about pumping iron with your picking hand so your fretting hand is free to throw the horns as you ham it up. The drums even get some good change up over this death march, and the tremolo actually turns sort of moody and eerie for a bit, instead of just swarming all over like a plague of locusts.

However, the second half of the record comes alive in a rather different way. By shifting their gears back a bit, Craven Idol summon some more valiant spirit across the final two tracks, ending up in territory that I last heard explored by Butcher in their superb black-thrash epic 666 Goats Carry My Chariot. “Deify The Stormgod” relaxes the drums and sets a gallop in the guitars, sending us careening into a martial verve. It’s a great adventure of a track, really making use of the full breadth of Craven Idol’s available selection of moods to depart into some less aggressive, more anthemic territory. “The Gods Have Left Us For Dead”, a traditional black metal cascade, tugs on the reigns even more, ending up with probably the most breathing room on the record. It is a success equal to “Stormgod”, and successfully cinches the record’s aim: Rampage up front, reflection in the back.

On the likelihood I’d visit these three records again, I’d say Forked Tongues claims the title, with Prying Sight on the backburner, leaving De Profundis snugly in-between. That’s an appropriate ending to this examination, because right in the middle is where Vader seem to fit best in any spread. A reliable median, a Polaris to get your bearings by. Even Prying Sight is plenty good to my ears, considering it’s up against a veritable classic and clearly has no desire to try and unseat its idols.

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