Review: VHS – I Heard They Suck…Blood
Despite the genre being inherently silly, it’s all too rare that you encounter a metal band willing to take the piss while they’re rocking your face off. Ontario’s VHS is that rare band—even while they’re cooking with gas, they keep it light and aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves while they’re doing it. I Heard They Suck…Blood is the next logical step in their evolution, and it’s one you don’t want to miss out on.
These here Canadian boys have been kicking around since 2015, and if you’re a regular in the Toilet their name should already be ringing in your ears. Guitarist/vocalist Mike Hochins and the band’s music have each appeared on Toilet Radio. Regular readers will also find themselves familiar with the band’s M.O.: horror movie samples, slamming low-tuned riffs, short songs built around the almighty riff, and themes/lyrics built around obscure horror flicks.
For those who love that formula and their sound, here’s the good news: they’re all still here. You’ve got riffs galore. You’ve got samples from plenty of movies and even a Simpsons episode. You’ve got the obvious vampire horror theme. You’ve also got a grueling production schedule, at least by modern standards. This is their 4th album in as many years, somehow matching Revocation‘s mid-2010s run.
Despite that warp-speed schedule, or perhaps because of it, VHS has grown immensely as songwriters in the last several years. The most immediate difference is song length—prior albums featured a significant number of warp-speed micro-tracks. Perhaps a sign of a waning interest in grindcore, the songs featured on I Heard They Suck…Blood instead frequently stretch past the two and three minute mark. While prog epics aren’t likely on the horizon, the extra length gives these songs additional time to breathe and grow, and I greatly enjoyed having them stick around long enough to form a more distinct impression. There was always a sick thrill in the rush of riffs speeding by on We’re Gonna Need Some Bigger Riffs, for instance, but I always tended to think of that album as a whole rather than having individual songs make such an impact that I could immediately recall the name of the song that went with which sick riff or fill.
On I Heard They Suck…Blood, that isn’t a hard task at all. VHS still plays a style that’s an explicit mash-up of death metal, thrash, grind, and skate punk, but the boys have managed to mix and, where necessary, separate those influences to better fit each song. Single “Undead Casanova” is straight-ahead death, and will probably get stuck in your head immediately. “Fake Blood and Push-Up Bras” leans harder into grind territory while periodically slowing down to highlight guest vocals from The Black Dahlia Murder‘s Trevor Strnad. Meanwhile, “Getting the Gang Back Together” feels every bit of their punk influence, with Andy Middaugh’s drum stealing the show throughout.
While these songs could all work fine if cut down to the length of earlier VHS albums, the extra time allows the band to wring the most out of their musical ideas. “Horror of Dracula” easily could have been a minute shorter just going by the main riffs and verses, but that would lose the ominous, doomy intro that builds anticipation for the fury to follow. On earlier albums, “Frog Brothers” probably would have only run for 90 seconds instead of over two minutes, and definitely wouldn’t have featured a wild saxophone solo. Likewise, the somehow simultaneously melodic and atonal first section of “Martin, Martin” practically begs for the extra time they wisely give it.
This type of organic expansion is the hardest type of musical growth for many groups to pull off. It’s also the sweet spot for enjoying a band’s music without confining them to a stylistic straightjacket. I Heard They Suck…Blood doesn’t sound like VHS is chasing a new sound or explicitly trying to stay in the same lane as their earlier albums. Instead, the album sounds like a band whose strengths as songwriters are growing stronger before our ears, resulting in greatness simply by virtue of refining what they do and making it as good as it can be. That’s an extraordinary achievement.
Say what you will about Children of Bodom 10 or 20 years later, but they mastered the art of releasing just enough music at a time to scratch the listener’s itch while leaving them wanting more. VHS has that same knack. Clocking in at a lean 32 minutes, I Heard They Suck…Blood provides just enough length for the newly longer songs to breathe before clearing out. The first time I listened to it, I immediately went back in for round two. Even for albums I’ve reviewed for the Toilet, that’s a rare feat. Take a listen and tell me if you don’t do the same thing yourself.
4.5 out ov 5 Bloody Goblets
I Heard They Suck…Blood is out now through Wise Blood Records. You can pick up a copy over at Bandcamp.