Vulture – Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves (Released 2019)
Thrash throwback purveyors Vulture have been around for a few years, and over the course of those years they have both flashed tremendous potential and frustrated me for not fully capitalizing on that potential. Their 2016 EP Victim of the Blade is utterly fantastic; all killer, no filler isn’t that much of a compliment as far as EPs go, but for real, all three tracks feature flawlessly vicious and deeply thrilling speed, with sick shredding to elevate it even further. And then, their full-length debut, 2017’s The Guillotine, is…fine. Almost nothing distinguishes itself, and as I type this I’m trying to think of any highlights from the album (which I’ve listened to a handful of times, each time hoping to find something to latch on to and each time coming away empty-handed in that respect), and I’m drawing a blank.
Ghastly Waves & Battered Graves is a definite improvement insofar as it is filled with the sorts of instantly hooky riffage displayed on Victim, and yet it still feels like it falls short of being its best self. A lot of the problem is that they seemed focused on cramming as many different riffs into each song as possible, without letting their coolest riffs hang out for long enough for the listener to achieve maximum headbanging velocity. Consider album opener Fed to Sharks, which starts with a dope intro that leads into a straight-ahead and totally awesome straight-ahead riff that seems like the backbone of the song before immediately switching into its actual main riff, which is competent but noodles a but too much for its own good and is less satisfying as a result. A lot of the choruses here go for a shout along vibe, but are slightly too clunky to pull it off effectively (see the title track).
Nevertheless, there is a lot to like about this album. One thing that Vulture has always done well is production – if I’ve learned anything in doing this column, it’s that there are a lot of metal bands out there who seem to enjoy shooting themselves in the foot with shitty production, and Vulture does not have that problem. This band always sounds really damn good, with punchy drums, crunchy guitars, and finely polished leads. They could use slightly more bass in the mix, but at least it’s present. Also, most of the songs here have dope intros, regardless of whatever comes later; I’d like to single out B.T.B. (Beyond the Blade) for having one of the best intros of the decade. Maybe someday they’ll put out a real masterpiece, but this will do in the meantime.
Standout Tracks: B.T.B. (Beyond the Blade), Tyrantula,Murderous Militia
Condor – Unstoppable Power (Released 2017)
If I’ve learned two things in doing this column, the second thing would be that it’s a lot more difficult to write about music intelligently than I had assumed going in. You have to listen to everything you intend to write up at least a few times, because you need to first fully internalize the song/EP/album in question. Then, and only then can you form cogent opinions. And then, once said opinions are formed, expressing them coherently can be a real pain, especially if you don’t know much about the nuts and bolts of production and don’t give a shit about lyrics. Therefore, when presented with an album like Unstoppable Power, which is pretty cool but also seems like a little less than the sum of its parts, it can be hard to say exactly why that’s the case.
But here’s the thing about Unstoppable Power – where are the damn drums? You hear bass buried in the mix all the time in metal, but not quite hearing the drums come through is a new one on me. Weirder still is the fact that this is only a problem during the main drum patterns; all the fills come through crystal clear. Is this normal? I have no idea. It sort of reminds me of Venom’s sound back in the day. Venom, of course, didn’t have a problem with losing the drums per se, but their albums did sound like shit in the conventional sense, and their sounds had a very soupy vibe. All the stuff was sort of thrown in there together willy nilly, with little attention paid to how (or even if) the individual components fit together. It makes the album harder to get into, even when cool stuff is obviously happening.
That’s what listening to Unstoppable Power is like. The riffs are cool and get you hooked, but over the course of each track the groove gets kind of lost and the song loses propulsion as a result, making the legitimate speed happening feel illusory; opener Embraced by the Evil is a classic example of trying too hard. All of that said, the highs here are excellent and make the gungy production on display charming indeed. The superb 83 Days of Radiation and You Can’t Escape the Fire succeed by slowing down and establishing their grooves and locking it in just enough to stand out in contrast to everything else, and to boost its own pure speed bits that much further.
Standout Tracks: You Can’t Escape the Fire, 83 Days of Radiation, Malevolent Curse