Saturday, May 22, 2010

Vital Remains - Dawn of the Apocalypse

Vital Remains - Dawn of the Apocalypse
1999, Osmose Records

This promo CD arrived packaged with the latest Swordmaster album - a strange pairing, to say the least, and a combination that I didn't really anticipate. I had expected that Osmose would find a way to always fit this album in with the newest Angelcorpse - they seem to go together rather well, for various reasons (the Petagno covers being only the least pertinent). I did look forward to hearing this album, however, no matter the way it came to me, and luckily my expectations were not rudely disappointed.

There seems to be something of a resurgence lately in older styles of death metal - a peaking of interest seemingly sparked by the success of Angelcorpse over the last few years, and labels are slowly starting to put out more and more of this style, something I am thankful for. When I say 'older styles' I don't mean the retro bands that are (thankfully) now fading in popularity, or the grunt-and-grind gore deathcore (the so-called 'brutal death metal') that never really went away (it just went to the Midwest), I am talking about the infernal, anti-religious, overtly Satanic style of thrashing death that descends in a direct line from Possessed and their first album, Seven Churches. Perhaps it was the revival of interest in all things Satanic, raw, corpse-painted, and bloodthirsty brought about by the successive waves of the black metal bands, or the inevitable wearying of the masses brought about by that trend's inability to completely saturate these shores (or Australia, it seems) - a blockade based on attributes shared by both nations' characters? I don't really know, but this style of death metal is coming back in a big way, and it seems to be centered right here in the States. The filthy revenant of Cogumelo rises again...

After a suitably chilling chorus intro, spanning a few frantic climactic seconds, Vital Remains plow directly at full speed into the first song. The impact is readily discernable: you have heard this before (or you should have, unless you came to the scene within the last few years), and from many different bands: the Morbid Angel worship, the thick, heavy-as-lead guitars gut churning on simplistic rhythmic riffs, the drums splashing, crashing, blasting, and syncopating everything in sight, and the vocals scarring your ears through combined high and low tones: bottom-of-the-sea thing that should not be vocal cord abuse, and screeching caterwauls flying to scar the landscape of God. The new vocalist Thorns combines a soul-swallowing Benton groan and high homicidal screams to good effect (sometimes at the same time to give the listener that 'Legion' feel) and truly erases from my mind any memory I might have had of this band's former throat. Excellent job.

When it comes to the rest of the Vital Remains formula, however, I am not as impressed. Even after repeated listenings the songs tend to blur into each other, and the epic length of a few of them ('Sanctity of Blasphemous Ruin', the fourth, runs over eight minutes) is trying at times. Because their length is based more on an establishment of a dark violent atmosphere (and that atmosphere being constructed from relatively simple musical elements or themes) instead of an exploration of many different song segments, things can get a bit monotonous at times - especially since they are not really offering anything new. A classical/spanish guitar overdub mixes things up on a few songs (starting with the title track), and that's a nice touch, but it serves mainly to distract rather than add to the heavier distorted guitar underneath it. The completely acoustic 'Came No Ray Of Light', in the middle of the album, does work, however, because it serves as a small oasis of calm among the prevailing carnage. I remember this band's first album, and on that release they were successful in creating truly infernal atmospheres mainly because their personal melodicism was, at times, so bizarre. I hope that this band continues to experiment, not necessarily with industrial music (as the eighth track, 'The Night Has A Thousand Eyes', demonstrates - an interesting addition), but with all the different elements that are open to extreme musicians who have a concrete vision of their own potential, goals, and the road to their fulfillment. The unrelenting ferocity and percussive brutality on display here could be very effectively tempered with an original melodic sense, creating something very powerful and noteworthy.

In any case, this is another very good entry in the war to re-establish death metal, and worth listening to at least once if you are at all sympathetic to that cause.