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After a couple of brutal, overlooked death metal masterpieces, Vital Remains have returned with a much smaller lineup, and only two of the members are original ones at this point in time. The lineup consists of Tony Lazaro on rhythm guitar and bass, Joe Lewis on vocals, and the talented multi-instrumentalist Dave Suzuki on drums, lead and acoustic guitars, and it is said that he also did bass for a couple tracks on this album. Forever Underground is possibly Vital Remains' best album. Vital Remains is a band that has released many other amazing albums, so I can't really call this THE best, but is certainly one of the best albums they've ever produced. The album is pretty rare, and is a hidden, underrated gem in American death metal.
Every single song on this underground black/death metal album sounds dark, heavy, aggressive, and awesome. Each song tells its own story and is excellent in its own special way. There is not one song on this album that is a filler track. The better quality about Forever Underground is each song contains so much variety. The song structures for each song are perfect, going from slow heavy riffs to fast, energetic blast-beats, which is what I like better about this album than the latest two Vital albums. On Dechristianize and Icons Of Evil, most of the songs sound very similar to each other, each having nearly the same song structures and same amount of fast riffs and brutality. On Forever Underground, the riffs, solos, and drum patterns vary in each song.
The musicianship on Forever Underground is, by far, the best I've ever heard from Vital Remains. Listen to that amazing riffing done by Tony Lazaro. He completely mixed black metal riffing with the style of American death metal riffing, and at the same time, he mixed lots of fast and brutal riffs with melodic riffs. It is unfortunate that Jeff Gruslin quit the band before the making of this album, but Joe Lewis did a fantastic job on vocals, and was the perfect replacement. He sounds bestial on these songs, as if it was a demonic beast doing vocals for this album. He sounds different from Jeff, but sure did do a great job, and he sure does sound better than Glen Benton. That's for sure! Dave Suzuki's tin-sounding drums fit amazingly with Tony's rhythm guitar. Also, Dave Suzuki really shows so much of his guitar talents on this album, including melodic, acoustic solos mixed with powerful, high-pitched electric guitar solos.
The album has really low, raw, and cheap production quality, but it's not too cheap to where it sounds shitty. The songs carry lots of atmosphere and melody and sound powerful even though the production quality isn't so great. If this album was over-produced to where it sounded like ten rhythm guitars were being played and where drums sounded like machine guns, this album wouldn't sound so great. If it sounded as overproduced as Icons Of Evil, Forever Underground wouldn't sound as amazing as it is.
Musically, I think Vital Remains improved on Forever Underground. Vital Remains had an amazing sound and style on Let Us Pray. The debut album had a slower death metal style, but then Vital Remains decided to add tons of intensity, more heaviness, and more speed into their music, which was heard on the next album, Into Cold Darkness. Into Cold Darkness and Forever Underground sound a bit similar, but on Into Cold Darkness, most of the songs were only made up of brutal riffs filled with tons of intensity and speed throughout. On Forever Underground, that intensity and speed is still there, but it's mixed with more melody and atmosphere, making the songs sound catchier. There's even a really short song called Farewell To The Messiah, which is a catchy, non-heavy song that fits well with the dark, heavy, and atmospheric songs of this album.
Overall, this album is quite possibly Vital Remains' greatest album. I highly recommend this to any Vital fan who hasn't heard it yet, anyone who loves bands from the black/death metal subgenre, and anyone who loves old school death metal. Choosing song highlights would be very difficult for this album considering how every song is excellent. This album is truly one fantastic, dark, satanic, heavy masterpiece.
Underground is an adaquate synonym when describing Vital Remains' early output While their latter albums have been equally praised and hated due mostly to the love/hate relationship people have with Glen Benton, "Forever Underground" and "Dawn of the Apocalypse" are up to par with the best death metal releases of the mid-90's.
Gone are the superfluous elements which are contained in "Decristianize" & "Icons of Evil", replaced with a more streamlined, down-tuned fundamental death metal riffing sound-structure. The drums are far less triggered than on the aforementioned albums, thus featuring a diverse rythym base for all of the songs.
Tony Lazaro's malificent riffs are on point and godamnit if David Suzuki isn't the most talented instrumentalist to grace the death metal scene as evidenced by his impeccable drum beats and always mesmerizing guitar solos & leads. It's quite clear that Suzuki is not only classically trained but has been playing drums, guitar and bass since a child. While this album doesn't feature Segovia-like guitar like a la "Icons of Evil" the Phrygian-scale based solos are still fucking awesome.
The production is far from sterile and has a nice organic & gritty atmosphere which suits anti-christian death metal perfectly. The vocals are decipherable and very well done; all-in-all this is excellent music which hits the mark.
Long before Glen Benton and headlining tours, Vital Remains proved to be the exact definition of an underground death metal band when they literally were shadowed by Florida’s sudden metal uprising in the early 1990s. Four full-length records emerged before you could find Providence’s finest selling out shows, but sadly, those great releases have suffered repression much like these madmen faced in their early days; however, they’ve never had a slither of a chance to show what lurks within, and that’s the cruel reality “Forever Underground” has been dealt. People always enjoy blasting their “Altars of Madness” or whatever, but where’s the death metal that just screams of brutality much like its classic competitors? Where’s some death metal that can feel epic, exciting, dynamic, and beefy all in one setting? Where’s some death metal that’s able to impress you today and tomorrow? Simple answer to all those questions: right here.
Funny thing is, “Forever Underground” fabricates itself around Vital Remains’ old-school death metal approach as expected, but not without implementing longer songs, keyboards, complex riffs, and solos that focus more so on style than technicality. Tony Lazaro’s guitar playing strictly resembles an instrumental peak in both his creativity and talent levels, mainly due to his voluminous licks exploiting scorching speed, pulverizing mid-paced sections, and stellar tempo changes. Dave Suzuki’s debut in Vital Remains shows the multi-talented musician literally flexing onto every part of his drum set while avoiding the blastbeat commonplace that turned so many individuals away from their later works; “Battle Ground” is really the one track containing a fair amount of blasting, but like I said, it’s just fair in quantity. Also, his shredding influence is felt entirely, especially when experiencing those memorable leads that almost feel well-known in an atmosphere similar to “Dechristianize” or “Icons of Evil.” Take “I Am God” and those flamenco solos for instance…just too cool.
Vital Remains had suffered lineup change after lineup change during this stage in the band’s life, so instead of dealing with typical crap, they agreed on sticking Joe Lewis at both the microphone and his primordial bass, yet here’s the kicker: he fucking rules at growling! Parched barks are constantly exiled from Joe’s twisted larynx while his morbid moans become one with Lazaro’s axing riffs and Suzuki’s outrageous drumming, which seems somewhat surprising considering his original place. Beings able to fit all these pieces together sounds like a band being born again, yet it’s completely clear each mentionable quality has been upgraded even further than before. Matured and redefined, “Forever Underground” comes off as some miners whom finally found perfect diamonds after years of digging over their specific foundation; it’s got the best riffs, percussion, bass lines, vocals, and general song schemes than anything else on Vital Remains’ original full-length collections.
As for production, we have not a single tweak of digital improvement; rawness reigns supreme on all instrumental levels. When placing this disc in the presence of your ears, you’ll be quickly consumed by rough guitars squished against chunky bass lines; it just has such a dirty background, and that’s how I like it, baby! But of course, the finest contribution resulting from keeping rareness intact is Dave Suzuki’s wild percussion, which honestly couldn’t sound more fitting on “Forever Underground” and its general muddiness. His snare’s volume quickly alters between crushing snaps and tiny pops, which are obviously based on his speed, yet those frisky toms he uses so intelligently also appear to be one with the undercooked as well. Be away with your triggered drums! We need not those swallow customizations!
It really sautés my tilapia to see “Forever Underground” in such a state of neglect after stuff like “Dechristianize” gave Vital Remains modernized publicity. Hell, it even adds a fat layer of butter on my tilapia when witnessing the Benton-only fans purposely ignoring this wonderful album just because his name sound familiar, whether it be from Deicide records or the Satanic gimmick he’s known for. Hypocrisy, I say! Discarding that mild inconsistency, please understand Vital Remains’ third chapter completely defines great death metal throughout its forty minutes of madness. A high-powered observation overall, and like its name, truly is – and shall eternally remain – forever underground.
This review was written for: www.leviatan-magazine.com
Now if that isn't a rally call to true, underground metal, I don't know what the fuck is. The title track alone could very well be THE death metal anthem; epic, raw, heavy, and evil as all hell. Kicking off with a rather grandiose riff, that builds into a heavy chug, before a furious barrage of double bass and flesh grinding riffs tear you apart, this song demonstrates Vital Remains' ability to build a song. And indeed, it passes through all sorts of moods, all of them being very, very pissed off.
FOREVER TRUE! FOREVER BLACK!
Well, I can't say that there's much black metal on here, but this is fucking true death metal, and not the "tr00" or "kvlt" kind, at that. "Battle Ground" starts off with a big kick to your face with a furious blast, before going to a half time grind. And you wouldn't think that any groove would find its way on here, but "I Am God" has quite a bouncy main riff to it. And by bouncy, I mean bouncing your head off the wall. Damn! That's catchy! Like every song on here, it goes through several tempo changes, and features a flamenco guitar solo in the middle. "Eastern Voyage" is the fastest track on here, with pummelling riffs and nasty drumming coming in at you from all angles.
"Farewell to the Messiah" sounds kind of like music for some fruity mideaval porn, so I skip it every time. "Divine In Flames" has some nice moments, but overall, it doesn't kick as much ass as the other monsterous songs on here.
Dave Suzuki makes his debut on drums and lead guitar here, and I think that the band grows in leaps on bounds with his addition. His drumming just sounds malevolent, as if he wants to punch you in the face with each beat. And he's no slouch on guitar, having a pretty clean, neo-classical style that almost sounds pretty.
Joe Lewis has my least favourite voice of all the Vital Remains frontmen, but when you're stacked against Jeff Gruslin, Thorns, and Glen Benton, you face very, very stiff competition. He's no slouch, but not the best these guys have had.
As for Mr. Lazaro...well, this guy just oozes excellent riffs. He's almost the Dave Mustaine of death metal, because nearly every riff he comes up with hits a nerve.
I think that after the last album, they went back to a rawer sound. The drums on here, especially, don't sound triggered. Hell, even the guitars have a ripping sound with a minimum of special effects. This gives the album a very badass sound. Very death metal, and very underground.
Largely overlooked before Glen Benton of Deicide joined their ranks, which is unfortunate because I believe this album to be the embodiment of Vital Remains. Each song is an epic journey of audio violence with variety being the key point, so even though the songs are all very long they remain interesting. Keyboards and acoustic guitars are used in strategic places to increase the epic nature, never over done. As a whole, Forever Underground (FU) has more of a live feel in both the production and the performance, as opposed to their current slick and processed material. I think this suits them better and wish they stuck with it.
Raw and aggressive guitars are the driving force here. Lots of riffs, frequent tempo changes and unique song structures are what this album is about. Every song contains solos, which is a good thing even though they're of average quality. The bass doesn't have a real presence, it's used mostly to fill out the sound and follows the guitars.
Dave Suzuki makes his debut here and does a precise and varied job on the drums. He pays more attention to the song's dynamics on FU than his triggered blast obsession of the Benton-era.
Vocals are mid-range growls timed well with the music and convincingly delivered. Musically Vital Remains have their own voice but they're spewing forth, as always, standard Satanic/anti-religious lyrics.
The keyboard instrumental in the middle of the album is the only low point, bringing to mind images of a Middle Eastern circus (though I've never seen one). On the positive side it's short but I still find myself skipping over it.
At the time of this review Icons of Evil is out and I would have to say FU is still the highlight of their discography.
6 tracks: 5 songs, 1 keyboard instrumental.