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Vader. Never been that big of a fan. I always thought they were a decent enough band, but they just weren't catchy enough to make a serious inroad into my usual playlist. At least I could credit them with attaching something worthwhile, death metal, to a name whose only other association I can think of is with something completely asinine. Welcome to today's installment of "how shit changes."
OK, I'm not gonna lie. Having been unimpressed, or maybe more accurately not overly impressed, with the admittedly limited amount of Vader material I'd heard before, I picked up this album solely because of the cover art. It's awesome. Easily one of my five favorite covers out there right now. Having now grabbed the disc, which I realized was a digipak containing bonus tracks, I figured the next logical step was to rip it, transfer it to the Zune, and blast it at high volume while I puttered around the house to see if the music managed to match the artwork in terms of awesomeness. This is one of those cases where I found myself seriously impressed by what I was hearing.
First off, the instrumental bits. Two of them make an appearance here, serving as the intro to the album (Ultima Thule) and the final original track (They Are Coming...). Now, usually when I think "instrumental," I think of something like Metallica's Orion. You know, an instrument-based song without lyrics. Well, you aren't getting that here. Vader's instrumentals serve as orchestral intro pieces, and they're executed very well. My only gripe is that I'd actually enjoy hearing longer versions. They certainly aren't groundbreaking by any stretch, but they definitely complement the music to come. In fact, some of the better tracks on the CD make use of a lot of the same elements heard in the instrumentals.
The actual tracks on the album provide a nice variety of approach and tempo. The slower tempo songs manage to set up a very nice groove in many places. Black Velvet and Skulls of Steel is a great example. Vader seems to get a lot of credit for the faster side of the metronome, but this is probably my favorite original track on the album. It's almost got a death'n'roll feel to it. Almost. When Vader wants to crank the tempo, such as in Decapitated Saints or Only Hell Knows, they certainly pull it off without sacrificing clarity. You can tell that the musicianship is definitely top-notch here when they're able to perform with both speed and precision at the same time. Decapitated Saints also serves to showcase a different side of Peter's vocals. He cranks up the tempo to match that of the music, echoing Tom Araya during the first segment of Dittohead, for example. Other standout tracks include Return to the Morbid Reich and I Am Who Feast Upon Your Soul. The latter makes very good use of some of the elements found in the instrumental tracks and has a great verse riff.
On to the bonus tracks. Me, I like cover songs. I like seeing bands put their own stamp on different material. The first one here is a cover of Extreme Noise Terror's Raping the Earth. This one didn't really do anything for me, although they definitely do the song justice. I'm just not a big ENT fan, so I wasn't really expecting much anyway. However, the second cover, a performance of The Exploited's Troops of Tomorrow, is outstanding. It's almost blasphemous to consider a cover song as the best track on a band's album, but this is easily my favorite track. Vader simply blows this one out of the water and makes it their own. I have visions of driving through D.C. blasting this at high volumes!
In short, this album changed my opinion of Vader. Front to back, it's a solid death metal CD and easily one of the five best albums I heard in 2011. The production is crisp, the musicianship is excellent, and overall Vader definitely deliver the goods. My only real complaint is that a few of the songs are on the short side. It doesn't take away from the individual songs per se, but there were a few cases where the song seemed to come to a premature end. Only Hell Knows could've used another verse, for example, to really make it stand out. But that issue is really more to do with my personal taste than anything actually "wrong" with the album. For that reason, I can't knock it below a 90. Perhaps the best thing I can say about the album is that it's caused me to go back and give the rest of my admittedly limited Vader collection more attention, and to track down some more of their releases. These guys clearly deserve more attention than I've been giving them, and I look forward to seeing what I might have missed.