Vektor – Terminal Redux

2016, Earache Records

Thrash metal has gone in and out of fashion several times over the past 35 or so years, but its adherents consistently remain amongst the most devoted fans of any metal subgenre. Nevertheless, it’s damn near impossible to do anything innovative or original in a genre that is generally defined by quite a narrow and specific set of rules and regulations; new bands are often chastised for being too derivative on one hand, or too experimental and too far from thrash’s roots on the other. Vektor, however, have done a lot in the 14 years since their formation to suggest that they may have found the right balance to move thrash forward in an exciting direction.

Due to a trans-continental relocation from Phoenix, Arizona to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and years of relentless touring, Terminal Redux, Vektor’s 3rd full-length effort and first with new label Earache, comes 5 years after their 2nd album. At 73 minutes in length, with songs ranging from 5 to 13 minutes long, it’s a complex and thoughtful effort that is clearly the work of a band who relentlessly live and breathe all things metal. Vektor’s biggest influence is Canadian legends Voivod, which is unashamedly evident from the technical riffs and sci-fi lyrics (they describe themselves as “space metal” on their Facebook page) right down to the angular logo which is very, VERY similar to Voivod’s. This is no tribute act though, as throughout Terminal Redux, Vektor show that they’ve been influenced by bands from across the extreme and progressive spectra; you can hear elements of Atheist, Coroner, Kreator, Death, Rush, Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, Opeth and Immortal to name a few.

Most of the tracks here are characterised by breakneck speed and dizzying technicality, all complemented by frontman David DiSanto’s excellent high-pitched howl (basically what the xenomorphs from the Alien films would sing like if they were into metal…). 9-minute opener “Charging the Void” explodes into life with fast and mid-paced sections intertwining perfectly; there are plenty of proggy bits a la Rush and Yes which augment, rather than diminish, the ferocity and an unorthodox mix of chanting and blastbeats bring the song to a climactic finish. Other highlights include “LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)”, with its tapped intro that reinforces the sci-fi/space theme well and “Angel of Death”-style breakdown, and “Ultimate Artificer” which, at a relatively short 5 minutes, shows that Vektor can write shorter, snappier songs as well as more epic stuff; this particular track plays like a more frantic Children of Bodom.

The best two tracks on Terminal Redux though are undoubtedly the closing pair. “Collapse” is primarily a ballad, but don’t let that put you off. Clean and harsh elements blend perfectly a la Devin Townsend or Opeth, making this a triumphant number that will surely go down brilliantly in a live setting. 13-minute closer “Recharging the Void”, as its title suggests, brings proceedings to a circular, satisfying close; its clean mid-section with haunting female vocals is particularly impressive. However, the quality of these two closing songs means that they do overshadow the rest of the album somewhat.

Apart from the throwaway interlude “Mountains Above the Sun”, there is nothing lacklustre about Terminal Redux. But “Collapse” and “Recharging the Void” are of such a higher quality than everything else here that the album as a whole is distinctly inconsistent. Vektor’s talent and ambition are clearly evident throughout, but greater diversity in songwriting would make this a great, rather than good, album. While there’s plenty to like in “Pteropticon”, “Psychotropia” and “Pillars of Sand”, they repetitively borrow plenty of elements from other songs, with the effect being that the album as a whole drags a bit.

Vektor are one of the most exciting thrash metal bands to emerge in years, and Terminal Redux is, in many ways, a solid statement of their abilities. But it also shows that they are not the finished article. Certain tracks on here indicate that they potentially have a masterpiece or two in them if they can only control and focus their creativity. If Vektor can replicate the diversity and ingenuity of these tracks across the duration of an entire album, they will then have the material that truly reflects their ambition. Watch this space, as this band has the potential to travel to infinity and beyond.

Verdict: 8/10

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Ravenia – Beyond the Walls of Death

2016, Nuclear Blast

Apart from the genre-transcending big names like Nightwish and Within Temptation, symphonic metal isn’t something that’s been a major concern for many metalheads for quite some time. Finnish newbies Ravenia aim to change that though and, on the face of it at least, they appear to be serious contenders. With live classical musicians as members, rather than relying on synthesised strings, and a pledge to make the perfect fusion between metal and film score music, they have plenty of positive attributes that could see them as the ones to revive this virtually forgotten-about metal sub-genre.

However, it doesn’t take long to realise that this debut album is anything but the start of a successful renaissance. If you’re going to call your album Beyond the Walls of Death you need to, bluntly speaking, give it some welly! There is no “oomph”, “bombast” or anything else that often makes symphonic metal such an enthralling kind of music. For starters, the mix is all wrong. The vocals of Armi Paivinen are admittedly sublime and they do compliment the strings well throughout, but these elements are so overtly dominant in the mix as to render the guitars and drums essentially redundant; “weak” and “tinny” are words that frequently come to mind throughout the album’s duration.

As well as getting the mix wrong, if you’re going to make a “perfect” blend of symphonic and metal music, you actually need to be able to play your instruments properly. Ravenia’s guitars and drums are SOOOOOO formulaic and uninspired it hurts; like a 5th-rate nu-metal band, without even the faintest whiff of a solo or anything else that requires musical dexterity. Anyone who doesn’t find this all mind-numbingly boring should be studied by scientists in order to help develop a new form of alertness medication; you need to be superhuman in order to withstand this snooze-fest…

Symphonic metal is a hard genre to get right, due to the intricate blending of seemingly disparate elements that it requires. Nevertheless, there is no excuse for getting it as utterly WRONG as Ravenia do here. I am shocked that such a prestigious and respected label as Nuclear Blast has given them a chance to be honest. Maybe they’ve seen some promise that might be realised on future releases; it’s because of the band’s relative inexperience that my review score for this album isn’t even lower. But if Beyond the Walls of Death is actually the best that Ravenia can do, they will sadly be cast aside very quickly.

Verdict: 3/10

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