Gothenburg, Sweden’s Vampire have presented listeners with an eponymous, ten track tour-de-force of intense, dark metal. Combining elements of traditional heavy metal with more extreme subgenres like death and black metal, this foursome has found a time-tested, battle-ready, winning formula. Vampire seems to take some of the best elements from some of their obvious influences – bands like Bathory, Celtic Frost, Venom, Possessed, and Usurper – and blending them together to form a fresh and seething wall of sound. Plus, where is purchased music being thrown it’s lifeline? On vinyl. A collector’s item for decades, vinyl has proven itself able to survive both the CD and digital craze, by remaining listenable to a small subgroup: those who own turntables. Vampire deciding to release their debut full-length on vinyl is wise, because it adds their sound to a growing legion of ‘collectible’ metal bands.
The lyrics are sung unintelligibly, but clear understanding of their message isn’t necessary. The music is so rhythmically catchy that it’s more fun to thrash along, and enjoy the vocal for it’s texture. What’s unusual about the album is the harmony guitar lines and the guitar solos, all skillfully performed. This is a very retro-flexing yet current release; if you liked your metal extreme in 1986, you’re going to adore this. Remember what was so good about “At Dawn They Sleep”, “No Remorse”, “1000 Days in Sodom”, “Dethroned Emperor”, etc.? Well that’s what these guys have channeled here. They recorded at an analog, pricey, “pop rock” studio to boot, so it’s not “too loud” like some digitally processed albums can be. As an old-school listener who grew up with a Walkman, and a tape deck in the car, hearing an album that can be “cranked” without worrying about damaging hearing is wonderful.
“Howl From The Coffin” has a mammoth-heavy, killer opener of a riff. The rest of the tune is built on a bone-crushing, unpretentious riff: simplistic and hyper-intense. Like some of the other songs, “Howl…” experiments with dramatic tempo shifts, proving that these Swedes know how to rock. “Howl…” is a neck-snapper of a tune. Unlike the early Celtic Frost, these guys seem to have more command of their instruments, so any added flash, like guitar solos, are more cohesive, less noisy. “Jaws Of The Unknown” and “The Fen” both have vice grip, mid-tempo grooves. These tunes have something rare in metal these days: catchy, well-written, riffs that don’t try to eject a listener from the solar system with speed, but also don’t bore the listener with “doomy” plodding. If you want to end up in a neck brace, this back-to-back wallop of tunes might accomplish just that. Both “Ungodly Warlock” and “Under the Grudge” have interesting passages that remind listeners to enjoy a mood other then “anger”. “Ungodly Warlock” has an interesting, slightly discordant but harmonic sounding lead line, reminiscent of early Hypocrisy. It has a slower mid-section with some fancy double-bass poly-rhythm (of course, well-disguised within the extreme metal framework), followed by a peaceful acoustic ending passage. “Under the Grudge” is a whirlwind of intensity, that closes with a piano outro complete with whispered vocal. It’s unusual. What’s unusual about this record, so far, which sets it apart from the old-school influential bands or records of yore, is that there are sparse but very modern production overlays (like the storm in “At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse”) and also some experimentation with melody and harmony in the lead guitar lines. They’re really doing it old-school: their tricks (like a harmonized or doubled guitar lead line) are written in to the music, reproducible live.
Albums like this remind us that there are guys who still value a warm, distorted sound and catchy songwriting. To that end, the production on this album is well-suited to vinyl, being full analog – warm and sonically ‘huge’. Songs tend to be a “radio friendly” length throughout, with only a couple of tunes over four and a half minutes. The whole album is a driving, punishing beast. Listeners have no chance to sit on their laurels: the disc is nonstop swirling fury from beginning to end.
Criticism: There isn’t much mood variance, and hearing about a band who got signed to a major indie label like Century Media from one 2012 demo, to release one eponymous disc without ‘real names’, smacks of an all-star studio side project. It’s a little too slick (and a lot too well-funded) to be that ol’ rags-to-riches tale in this day and age. Neither of those are bad: in fact, the monolithic “go for the throat” intensity of this album is one of it’s main attractors. Sometimes it’s great to have a simpler album, one not full of twists and turns or emotional variations.
The warm, “vinyl or cassette tape” sounding production: very well-balanced and well-mixed, not too loud and definitely not too crisp, adds to Vampire’s allure. If you miss the times when metal sounded like it was played with real instruments – no triggers, no keys, before it became a parody of itself with cookie monsters and typewriters – this album is going to end up on your shortlist of discs to play repeatedly. Fans of Celtic Frost, Venom, Bathory, Possessed, early Slayer, and some of the second wave like Usurper and Deceased, are going to adore this. It’s good music. Impressive, and recommended.
Track Listing with Run times:
Howl From The Coffin (04:01)
At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse (02:43)
Ungodly Warlock (03:50)
The Bestial Abyss (05:41)
Black Deserts (02:57)
Jaws Of The Unknown (02:50)
The Fen (04:46)
Cellar Grave Vampire (03:08)
Under The Grudge (04:09)
Hand of Doom – vocals
Black String – guitars
Command – bass
Ratwing – drums