Obscure Metal Roundup 12

Hellripper – The Affair of the Poisons (Released 2020)

Yeah, I know, I know. I haven’t brought a fresh OMR to the masses for over a month now, leaving you all to scrounge around and re-listen to Satanic Royalty for the 10,000th time. It was too long to be gone, but I had a lot on my plate in January, and if I learned anything from OMR‘s initial run, it’s that the column quickly becomes unsustainable if I force myself to crank one out each and every week, regardless of how busy I am otherwise, and regardless of whatever depressive episodes I may or may not be cycling through. Therefore, new installments will drop when I have time.

Old business aside, it’s time to ease back in to the rounding up business with a visit to Hellripper, this column’s patron deity (Alignment: CE, obviously. Associated Domains: Death, Tempest). The Affair of the Poisons dropped last fall, and is the band’s first full-length release since 2017’s eye-opening Coagulating Darkness. I say eye-opening because, after listening to a much hyped and thoroughly underwhelming release from a band that shall remain nameless, I concluded that metal was reaching some sort of catastrophic end state, in which thin, mediocre, mid-tempo riffs are propped up with blast beats and death growls.

Reeling from this disappointment, I stumbled upon Coagulating Darkness within a week or so, and I almost peed out of joy. They still make trashing riffs! As in, there are still bands that write riffs that are actually fast by themselves, and don’t need constant double-kicker to sound aggressive. They still make solos that are both full of sick shredding and have hooks for days! They still bust out twin leads on occasion, outside of the context of deliberate traditional throwbacks! The album was nothing less than a gateway to all the metal that’s being made these days that scratches my hesher’s itch.

The Affair of the Poisons brings more of the same, albeit with the bass a bit lower in the mix. That always disappoints me, although I am continuing to learn that it’s part of the black metal ethos, and I may be coming closer to acceptance. Regardless, Hellripper’s keen ear for hooks remains intact. The title track’s break section has an insidious earworm of a lead; Vampire’s Grave marries a memorable, almost shout-along chorus with an almost bluesy guitar melody. And, of course, there are still regular, good old fashioned thrash workouts to get the head banging in Beyond the Convent Walls and Blood Orgy of the She-Devils. Almost every track here has something to latch onto, be it a guitar lead, a riff, or a masterfully accented chorus rhythm.

Welcome back, Hellripper! I know you never left, but still.

Standout Tracks: The Affair of the Poisons, Specters of the Blood Moon Sabbath, Beyond the Convent Walls

Vampire – Rex (Released 2020)*

*Spotify Link; Album not found on Bandcamp

I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to hide my biases anywhere on this entire blog, least of all in the OMR space. This is a good thing; there’s no point, whatsoever, in pretending that such an obviously subjective exercise as listening to music and telling others whether I liked it or not is based on any sort of ‘objective’ criteria. Not only do I not know what such a column would look like – I mean, I guess I did take a year of Music Theory in college, but that so long ago now that I wouldn’t trust myself to be all, “Hey, check out that use of the diminished seventh” or whatever the fuck, even if I was positive I was identifying the chords or scales or whatever correctly. And that would never happen; hell, I’m not even positive that I’ve been right all the times I’ve complained about insufficient bass mixing in this space. For all I know, I might just suck at listening.

This is all more information than I needed to provide to establish that selection of bands and albums featured in OMR is subject to my whims and predilections, and I will make no apologies for that. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to bring you Rex by the band Vampire, another collection of thrashy death stuff with traditional trappings thrown in for good measure, because that’s what I’m into.

Vampire is more concerned with using its melodic leads and soloing towards escalating drama than it is concerned with shoveling hooks directly in your earholes. There are big, expansive intros with soaring lead work that lead into thrashy blasts, which in turn lead back to slow sections, which themselves serve primarily as rev-ups for even faster thrash sections, even if they go on for a bit. The sheer amount of changes is progressively flavored by definition, but it’s not overwhelming. The changes aren’t too frequent; individual riff sections are given time to breathe and establish themselves before moving on to whatever is next.

To pull all of this off without making individual songs too busy is a heck of a feat, made all the more impressive by the fact that only a couple of songs here crack even the five-minute mark. Penultimate track Anima serves as the album’s climax and thesis defense, as the band shows that they can still milk drama at slower speeds. The creepy calm of the intro builds to a basic chug of a main riff. This is meant as a compliment; the riff itself is just a base for the leads and the vocals to do all of the heavy lifting. The end segues seamlessly into closer Melek-Taus, which finds the band revving the tempo back up. You get the impression that the two tracks are meant to be seen as a unified substance, at least to some extent.

All of that said Rex is not perfect. Drama is cool and all, and part of why metal is its lovable self, but there aren’t quite enough hooks to make individual songs memorable. There’s cool riffs and lead work and all that, but most of the album is a swirling assault of it. It’s all well and good, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure I could remember which track was which, even after multiple listens. Even in metal, and thrash metal at that, this stuff still matters.

Standout Tracks: Inspiritus, Rekviem, Anima

Sandstorm – Time to Strike (Released 2019)

(Special shout out to The Black Market for putting this band on my radar!)

There’s traditional metal, and then there’s traditional metal, you know what I’m saying? Time to Strike sounds like it crawled out of a time before even the invention of THAC0, when to-hit numbers were read off of labyrinthine tables, and the Monster Manual looked like this. Describing the technical parameters of guitar sound is largely outside the scope of my expertise, but danged if this isn’t the most old-school death boogie guitar sound I’ve come across, by far, even counting the scores of hipster-flavored traditional acts out there these days.

About that word, boogie. I am not using it lightly, here. A lot of the riffs on Time to Strike have a real swagger to them. They preen and strut and lock into their grooves with the rhythm section sunk all the way into the pocket, resulting in a record that’s oddly loose. Metal, when examined as a whole, is many things, but it hasn’t been as loose and bluesy as what Sandstorm attempts here since metal bands went all the way out of their way to get themselves classified as literally anything else. Further confusing matters are the solos, which in direct and glorious contrast to just about everything else are precisely articulated and classically tinged.

The biggest flaw with this album is the slow start. Opener Death Is Near doesn’t really do much for me, other than provide a statement of intent as to what era of music is being thrown back to, and a pretty decent solo section, I guess. Beyond that, it’s a bit boring and non-propulsive, and a poor introduction to what Sandstorm does well. The album doesn’t truly arrive Witchman, Sorcerer of Satan three tracks in, and it would have been served with the rev-up Hymn to the Hell Knights kicking things off. First impressions matter! I could be getting my riffs from anywhere, Sandstorm, so stop burying your best material!

Standout Tracks: Witchman, Sorcerer of Satan, Denizen of Hell, Hymn to the Hell Knights

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