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Vital Remains has always been a band marked by a tendency to go long, all the while never quite falling into the category of being either technical or progressive in the sense that the terms tend to be associated in relation to death metal of late. From their earliest LP "Let Us Pray" they took what could be described as a very epic approach to old school, traditional death metal, culminating in albums that bucked the Slayer-influenced trend to assaulting at full strength for a duration matching or coming just under half an hour, all the while still managing to utilize similar techniques as the same Slayer-inspired Florida scene without getting stale. But times change, as do trends, and not long after the turn of the millennium, founding member and songwriter Tony Lazaro decided to modernize, incorporating an even more exaggerated style where elements of melodic death metal found themselves merged with an even longer version of the already epic length songwriting that this band has long exemplified, thus was born the 2003 mountain of notes and occasional incoherence otherwise known as "Dechristianize".
Suffice to say, anyone who was a fan of this band back in the good old days when the guitar solos were wild but tasteful, vocalist Jeff Gruslin was barking out vintage NYDM styled wickedness, and the entire arrangement didn't sound like a mechanized factory of sound with all the obligatory gears grinding together at warp speed would have been disappointed with "Dechristianize", and that same sentiment goes double for its 2007 follow-up "Icons Of Evil". For all the boasting out of Lazaro that this was their "Reign In Blood", this album does just about everything possible to miss the point about why that album was heralded as the peak of extreme thrash. Said album's sound was an organic journey through horror that had a varied lyrical approach meshed with a raw, rapid paced musical aesthetic that, while not exactly subtle, definitely possessed a level of tact that this album sorely lacks.
A good analogy for this overblown megalith of technical showboating and meandering sectional changes actually presents itself in the sounds of Christ's torture during the prelude "Where Is Your God Now", which is that of a budget-busting Hollywood endeavor. Granted, there have been some multi-million dollar film projects that work well because the special effects act as a servant of the story. "Icons Of Evil" is more like an extremely poor version of a Michael Bay film (an accomplishment to say the least), constantly lavished in magnificent explosions of guitar and drum work that tend to lose their effect, as if the movie had managed to destroy the Empire State Building 12 times successively with the same meteor. It comes complete with the usual assortment of attempts at having a plot by simply putting breaks between songs, but ultimately this whole album listens like one extended, hour long plus shred and blast fest that would even make a hypothetical bastard son of Suffocation and Dragonforce blush, with a poorly modified Yngwie Malmsteen song at the end just to further drive the point home.
It's been a common practice for vocalist Glen Benton of Deicide fame to take the brunt of the blow for this album coming out as mediocre as it does, but truth be told, his haggard growls are only part of the problem. His low end grunts are fairly hoarse and he occasionally compensates by providing a higher-pitched shriek track on top of them to synthesize a toneless, demonic harmony of sorts, resulting in something that often resembles early 2000s Cradle Of Filth. But the real downfall of this album, as hinted to with the Michael Bay building destruction scene analogy, is that it doesn't really go much of anywhere inspite of all that's going on. From the onset of the blast-happy title song "Icons Of Evil", this album just blazes on at full speed and proceeds to wander about in no discernible order, often times hitting a very cliche sounding melodic passage, but never really managing to make anything stick. Coupled with the songs going on for way too long, this album takes the concept of impact over substance to a new level, being both massively impressive yet quite forgettable.
While this album is not something that should be recommended to anyone with an ear for old school death metal or even something that newer tech. and melodeath fans should mess with, I can't quite bring myself to outright bomb the whole endeavor. This is an album that might have worked a bit better had the band opted to simply go for a solid, song-oriented album rather than attempting to erect a 2nd Tower of Babel. A lot of talent and effort went into crafting this exaggerated to the point of being comical album, something which can't be said for some of the garbage passing for death metal of one type or another in the past several years. Most of the truly great death metal albums of both the past and present were crafted by musicians who simply did what they were good at rather than killing themselves on self-indulgent, 7-9 minute fits of musical pretentiousness. In short, Vital Remains tried way too hard, and it shows from beginning to end here.
Oh wait, wrong bullshit.
Then again, after listening to this album a bit of superstitious dyslexia is to be expected. That and a serious craving for death metal that isn't cartoonish and exhausting. I’m not entirely certain if it’s Satanic policy to be this goofy, but every possible cliche is on display here. An anguished Jesus on the cover? Check. An orc nailing him onto the cross with a hammer that says ’666′? Check. Having the album clock in at 66:06? Check. Taking what used to be my favorite Satanic death metal band and turning it into a prolonged Deicide outtake? Check fucking mate.
I feel a bit of background is necessary to truly appreciate how much I loathe what Vital Remains has become. I was introduced to the band when Glen Benton came aboard and put out ‘Dechristianize’, which is a solid release, but nothing more. What I discovered after getting into the band was Vital Remains *before* Benton, going all the way back to their debut, ‘Let Us Pray’. As crazy as it may sound to some of you, Vital Remains wasn’t always the official knock off of Deicide. ‘Let Us Pray’, ‘Into Cold Darkness’, and ‘Forever Underground’ are all classics in their own right that display three things lacking from Benton’s Remains: subtlety, atmosphere, and a genuine feeling of evil. The lengthy songs and Satanism were still present, but were inseparable from the band’s understanding of musicianship and raw feeling. All three of those albums personified a different trait of the music perfectly, be it the sheer terror on ‘Into Cold Darkness’, the fury on ‘Forever Underground’, or the hellishness of ‘Let Us Pray’. Vital Remains was nigh untouchable as an unknown act. Of course, like all of the fiction involving Beelzebub, the worst trickery was yet to reveal itself.
Enter Glen Benton, evangelical devil worshiper, frontman of Deicide, and all around douchebag. When ‘Dawn Of The Apocalypse’ failed to live up to Vital Remains’ first three masterpieces, Benton got involved with the band to put out what many (shockingly) consider their best album, the aforementioned ‘Dechristianize’. While certainly not a bad album, Benton and crew completely disregarded what old Vital Remains did to make nine minute songs worth every second in favor of gratuitous filler and cheesiness. Take ‘I Am God’ off of ‘Forever Underground’ and compare it to ‘At War With God’ off of ‘Dechristianize’. The immediate difference is one of engagement; ‘I Am God’ doesn't need to flaunt that it’s vengeful and hate-filled because it shows instead of tells. It’s also a slower paced song with about a minute more than ‘At War With God’, but not once does it lag or get stale. Right off the bat, ‘At War With God’ has not only pilfered the worst bits of Deicide, but the opening riff is almost the exact same as one of the best riffs in ‘I Am God’. It’s a competent track marred by the idiotic decision to constantly remind the listener ‘his is hardcore anti-god stuff, maaaaaaaaaan.’ It isn't profound or thematically rich. It's shameless, pathetic, and desperate. Even as an imaginary character, Satan wouldn't be caught dead being so unsubtle.
So why exactly is ‘Icons Of Evil’ worse? It's quite simple, it has all of the insufferable pandering/mugging that ‘Dechristianize’ was hampered by and nothing else. There isn't an ounce of seriousness, atmosphere, or variation here. The fundamental misunderstanding of how to write 8-10 minute songs has progressed to the point of making 98% of every single track the stuffing of hell’s sofa. It’s baffling to think that Tony Lazaro and Dave Suzuki were part of the classic Vital Remains given what they shat out here. Sure, the instruments are played proficiently and there's nothing technically wrong with any of the guitar work or drumming (the only reason this album doesn't get a score of 0), but there’s nothing intense or interesting going on. I've scoured the entirety of this album for anything that can actually be called 'Vital Remains' and it isn't there, at least not in any genuine sense. Much like 'Dechristianize', this album superficially assimilates odds and ends of material long since released with zero authenticity. A cheap knock-off stretched way past any logical breaking point. Everything already wrong with this album is of course made worse by Benton’s vocals; half-assing has been Mr. Benton's trademark for as long as he's been 'growling', but 'Icons Of Evil' is easily his worst vocal performance to date and as someone who's never liked Glen Benton's vocals, that's saying something. Oh wow, the same mid- pitched yawn growl followed by shrieks too pathetic for a Norwegian black metal demo tape. One more hour of that please!
By the way, that filler I've been talking about? It's just the most bland portion of every track copied, pasted, and repeated until FINALLY one song ends and another begins to restart the insanity. Really.
Songs that could have been easily reduced to three or four minutes (it’s not like this album respects anything that made Vital Remains what it was anyways) decide to instead get stuck in a rut for nine or so minutes. I have to wonder if these tracks are the remnants of a failed concept album since everything blends together so much it becomes one mushy, nerve-wracking, amorphous blob of failure and aggravation. Forget ‘sounding the same’, everything on this album IS the same. They should have called this album 'Glen Benton Buttfucks Vital Remains Into Irrelevance'. It's a better title than 'Icons Of Evil' and it has the distinct advantage of being honest...
Nothing here is as it should be. Instead of being technical and captivating like no other, the instrumental work is tired and played out. Instead of evoking dread or fear, the vocals are laughably substandard cynic fuel. Indeed, the whole production reeks of cynicism. There’s no passion here, only the mindless pantomiming of musicians that have long since abandoned their devotion to what made their band great coupled with a frontman that is inadequate to lead in too many ways to count. Religion is incredibly simple to lampoon or intellectually demolish. It’s the logical equivalent of taking candy from a blind, deaf, and dumb infant. The classic Vital Remains used Satan in an effective and genuinely powerful way to advance a terrific anti-religious sentiment. Benton’s Satanism, on the other hand, is the same sort of dog and pony show that loonies like Pat Robertson specialize in, which makes it a sad joke for the feebleminded. Satan is a fascinating character and the perfect contrast to the authoritarian cloud dweller many people make God out to be, but he isn't real. I don’t ‘disbelieve’ in God or Satan because it’s the equivalent of ‘disbelieving’ in sentient tea cups in top hats. God/Satan don't exist outside of the holiest bit of torture porn ever written (The Bible) and the hallucinations of savages. Glen Benton doesn't understand this so naturally pairing him with a band that did is like pouring gasoline into a pool of water. Deicide hasn't been relevant in a very long time and Vital Remains has always been the cream of the Satanic death metal crop. What better way to destroy the immediate competition than to assume the role of frontman, put out a decent album to make people interested to hear what comes next, and then release an album so terrible it guarantees near permanent hiatus. Congratulations you piece of shit, you succeeded.
In the end, Vital Remains has a long way to go to recapture even a fraction of the unholy spark that made them so great. Glen Benton has thankfully fucked off back to Deicide, but that's just the beginning. If Tony and Dave insist on continuing the musical paucity this album revels in (and the only thing it truly excels at), then no amount of hard work and persistence from whomever will be Vital Remains' next vocalist can alter the head first dive into the shit abyss that started with 'Dechristianize' and went even further with this astoundingly terrible release.
At any rate, hail Santa, Connor Macleod, and The Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed). Just remember they’re never worth killing over, regardless of whether you’re slaughtering human beings or a classic death metal band.
Vital Remains apparently began as a pretty normal death metal band, releasing a bunch of albums that ten people have heard, before taking the scene by storm through pre-empting Dethklok in becoming the world's first commercially successful death metal parody band on the surprisingly tolerable 'Dechristianize'. Of course, like most gimmicks, the members were firmly convinced they could recreate the success by making another album just as overwrought and ridiculous as 'Dechristianize', and the result is 'Icons Of Evil', a turgid, unlistenable record that I've managed my way completely through exactly once on a car ride where it was the only CD available. After one play we immediately switched to looking for whatever radio stations were available. I believe we settled on a station that was playing Red Nichols And His Five Pennies, a paleolithic jazz group which was undoubtedly more interesting than Vital Remains ever will be.
I think the metal scene had room for one hour-long album of absurd anti-Christian death metal composed of more harmonizing leads than actual riffs, and Vital Remains fucked up by trying to do it again, only even longer, harder, and more throbbing than before. Really, this is point-by-point identical to 'Dechristianize' in all the superficial ways: ridiculous guitar theatrics, overlong, ridiculous songs, and Glen Benton lazily barking his way through the tracks with nothing in the way of variation or nuance. What this doesn't have, however, is the immediate memorability and fun of 'Dechristianize'. Let's face it, the first time you hear 'Dechristianize' is memorable simply because it's probably the most absurd death metal record you've ever heard at the time. But now we know the playbook, and 'Icons Of Evil' did nothing in the intervening four years to step up the band's collective game.
Every track on 'Icons Of Evil' is interminably long and repetitive, with long stretches of blast beats and furious tremolo riffing being broken up by equally long passages of noodling harmonized leads, which generally leads into yet more blasting and tremolo riffing. I'm not necessarily insisting that Vital Remains should do anything BUT this, but the laziness in the songwriting is pretty obvious: the individual riffs, not particularly special in and of themselves, are pretty short and repeated over and over again, with simple string bounces being used to provide the illusion of variation. In reality, Vital Remains has three riffs: the churning NYDM tremolo riff, the Behemoth ripoff riff, and the crazed arpeggiated lead, and they use every single one of them on every single track. The melodic sense of the record is so industrialized that it feels like every song is based off the exact same handful of notes, leaving no track with any sort of personality. All imagination is sucked dry by the machine-press songwriting, totally overmixed production, and absolute lack of dynamics apart from 'go fast, then go faster'.
Yeah, this really sucks but I don't really understand how anyone would expect something different. Vital Remains is basically a joke band and has been for nearly a decade now, so if you really need an album like this pick up 'Dechristianize' and leave this in the bargain bin it was made for.
After loving Dechristianize, I decided I'd give Icons of Evil a listen. I have a few complaints and praises for this album. First, for the complaints: shocking album art and Benton. Praises: the music itself.
The album art here is pretty bad. Not because "it OMG shows our Lord Jesus Christ" in such a demeaning manner, but because it simply looks clichéd and just downright stupid. The back is much better, but the photos of the band members are pretty lame. Benton, being the moron he is has dressed up in a suit of armour, similar to what we find in black metal. Lazaro is making a stupid facial expression at the camera and Suzuki looks stoned. So forget the awesome artwork that we have on Dawn and Dechristianize.
Benton puts in a pretty horrible vocal performance here. OK, so he did a decent job on the last album and probably friendships have developed so giving him the flick for a better vocalist probably wasn't really an option. I have never been a fan of his growls (or Benton for that manner), he has a pretty horrible growl and his high pitched vocals aren't anywhere as bad ass as they were on the last album, here they are simply average. His vocal performance on this album is dull, as with Araya from Slayer, maybe he is getting too old for this sort of thing? Oh well, at least his better than Chris Barnes.
The album isn't as aggressive as the last album but it's not far off. Suzuki again puts in an awesome performance as a guitarist, drummer and bass player. I have a lot of respect for this man because he is such a masterful musician and it certainly shows here. The solos and drumming is intricate and again, it’s a sheer pleasure to listen to. However, unlike the previous release, the songs simply aren't as interesting and when you have songs about 7 minutes long this can become a problem. Thankfully, the songs never became unbearably boring.
This is definitely a step backwards, I'm not too sure what to expect from subsequent release. I'm guessing it will either be a step backwards or the band may just stagnant and release Icons of Evil pt II. I think expecting another Dechristianize is wishful thinking because that was when the band was at their prime and those days are irretrievably behind them. If Dechristianze has left you hungry for more, I recommend you get this but know this; it is nowhere near as good as what Dechristianize had to offer.
Conclusion: The above is recommended for download or purchase.
Vital Remains, to many, are one of the best death metal acts around; and although the greatness of any of their previous works can be contested in a multitude of arbitrary ways, Icons of Evil has definitely slammed that final "nail into the coffin" of greatness.
The guitars soar with beautiful, neoclassical leads while maintaining perfect rhythmic harmony in the face of the ever pitiless drumming. The leads really highlight the intensity of the album as they interject bits and pieces of melody, while the psychodynamic drums carry the aggression in each song to new heights. The instrumentation on this album is absolutely flawless; the enmity felt here is matched only by the extreme monotony of Glen Benton’s vocals, which is really the only possible downfall of this album.
Benton, being "Glen motha’-fvcking Benton," has his voice very loud in the mix; and although this doesn’t dampen the aggression found on the disk, it certainly doesn’t do anything to help it. If only you could understand what he was saying! He sounds as if he’s just too tired to pronounce those satanic verses anymore. Lyrical delivery aside, his vocal abilities (like always) shine brighter when a higher register death rasp is used in conjunction with his groaning exhales; this differentiation adds a great deal to many of the songs which, otherwise, would have become quickly tiresome.
Aside from that minor discomfort, this is easily the best Vital Remains yet. The songs are fast, ferocious, and demonic in nature. Even better though, is that the band actually has slow moments. Sure, the slowest moments are still (comparing to other bands) blisteringly fast, but the minute changes actually help the entire album’s replayability by showing it is not one huge fast song — and seeing that the average song is about seven minutes, it helps greatly.
Vital Remains took a lot of time to craft this album (four years, in fact), and it shows. Icons of Evil itself could be the theme to the apocalypse, with beers and spears as high as the adversary himself could raise. The bonus Malmsteen cover is also exceedingly well done, which definitely gives this release a solid.
I've read several of the reviews here on the Archives. Most people refer to this album as 'Dechristianize II.' I think that it's a mistake to merely shove this release aside as more of the same.
As you can see by checking out my review of Dechristianize, I gave this album a higher score. Most people who liked Dechristianize seemed to do the opposite. Let me rationalize the higher score.
First of all, the production of this album is superior to Dechristianize. Courtesy of Mr. Erik Rutan, the tone is thicker, nastier and darker. The meatier sound made the album more enjoyable.
The riffing is mean and nasty, just as in Dechristianize. One of Dechristianize's biggest flaws was the monotony of the riffing that appears throughout the album. Icons Of Evil definitely improves. Though there is still a bit of monotony, there is definitely a lot more creativity here then the band has gotten credit for in other reviews.
One of the biggest improvements is the melodic segments. In Dechristianize, the melodic parts seemed rather thrown in, just to make the songs less boring. This time around, the parts fit better, are more suited to the song and sound more thought-out.
Another improvement is the drum tone. One of the worst things about Dechristianize is how tinny the snare sounded during the gravity blast segments. The bass drums also sounded really clicky. On this album, the tone is greatly improved.
The bass is practically inaudible, so I can't comment much on it. It seems to follow the guitars pretty steadily.
Glen's vocals aren't as strong as Dechristianize, but he still delivers a powerful performance, as to be expected. The biggest problem is that his lows seem to have lost a bit of force and his highs are occaisionally delivered in a sloppy fashion.
The album still suffers from some of the problems that plagued Dechristianized. One of the biggest issues is that the album continues with the horrendously long songs that plagued albums past. One glance at the lyric sheet is testament to this fact, as you will see seven or eight stanzas of lyrics followed by: (repeat all verses).
If this album were condensed down to about 40 minutes, it would be a masterpiece, as most of the songs are really good, but the repetition and length leaves you bored.
One of the reasons that this album, like Dechristianize, is hard to get into is because the songs have a similar tempo. One gravity blast flows into the next, some of the riffs are indecipherable, and the drums are pretty samey.
Fortunately, the last half of the album has some tempo variety and, in my opinion, better songwriting. The Malmsteen cover is also well-done.
Overall, better writing and production make Icons Of Evil superior to 2003's Dechristianize. Though this band are masters at their instruments, the songs would be more enjoyable at half the length, and some variety in speed and emotion would help the album substancially.
In 2003, Vital Remains made a comeback of sorts with the pulverizing Dechristianized. That album signaled a revival for this long standing death metal band and the inclusion of Glen Benton on vocals helped enhance their profile. Icons Of Evil is the follow up to the band’s masterpiece and was released earlier this year as anticipation levels hit fever pitch.
The album starts with the title song which clocks in at over 7 minutes and VR once again have put together some long songs. The song starts off nicely with the typical brutal death metal attack that worked so well on the last album. Then almost inexplicably, Dave Suzuki’s lead guitar playing takes over the song. There’s a never ending lead section with Suzuki styling himself after some neo classical wanker or another. Then there are the blast beat parts that just sound really fucking irritating. Things are off to a shaky start and even Benton doesn’t sound half as impressive as he did on the last VR or Deicide albums. After this song though, I loose the plot completely. The subsequent songs seem to merge into one another in a never ending display of guitar wankery and blast beats. Scorned, Born To Rape The World and the Yoda-esque Reborn The Upheaval Of Nihility all just roll past without making any impression on me. Not to mention that all three songs are again over seven minutes long.
Hammer Down The Nails is one song that does make an impression with its heavy as fuck guitar tone and Benton suddenly sounds like he’s been given a shot of something as he sounds pissed off on this song. Again though, Suzuki’s lead playing threatens to take over the song but he’s reined in and the band, halfway into the album finally deliver a pummeling death metal attack. Very next song Shrapnel Embedded Flesh is another scorcher and is again a comparatively short song with Suzuki’s lead playing being reined in, in favour of some brutal death metal riffing. The album definitely picks up in the latter half with ‘til Death displaying some more terrific riffing and harmonies courtesy Lazaro and Suzuki
Now, here’s what I think went wrong with Icons Of Evil. In 2003, there were zero expectations from Vital Remains and the band released an album that just fucking destroyed and also got them a whole new generation of fans. This time around, expectations were sky high and the band seems to have buckled under the weight. This is essentially the sound of a band playing safe and simply making music along already established parameters. Also, Suzuki’s been a terrific drummer/ lead guitarist for the band but here his performance behind the drum kit leaves a bit to be desired. The constant blast beats get pretty fucking irritating and there’s just too many guitar solos.
Mainman and rhythm guitarist Tony Lazaro has been instrumental in releasing two classic albums of the death metal genre in 1997s Forever Underground and the aforementioned Dechristianized. Both those albums had long songs but also had a real menace and a powerful sound to them. In comparison Icons Of Evil comes across as being Dechristianized 2 and like most sequels can’t hold a candle to the original.
Vital Remains, the bombastic and overly satanic duo(trio if you include Mr. Benton) come back with a monster effort in 2007 with Icons of Evil. The riffs are great, the vocals are brutal, the drums are insane, the song strctures... are long.
This record would have gotten a grade in the 90s should it not be for the fact that everything is overdone here. Minus the Yngwie cover, there is nothing clocking in at less than 6 minutes here, and the songs suffer dearly from it.
Many songs seem to have been doubled up in that you have a structure that lasts about 3-4 minutes, there's a bridge and then you play the same 3-4 minutes of music to finish it off. This proves to be rather repetitive, and, dare I say it, over-brutal? Yes, I love death metal as much as the next guy, but this record is ALWAYS on hyper blast mode, to a point where you just become numb to it all and stop paying close attention.
As for the the actual playing? I have a tremendous amount of respect for Dave Suzuki, this guy is a fantastic drummer, with blast beats and rolls galore not to mention his sweep arpeggios and tastefully crafted lead lines. Benton is up to par on this, his vocals keeping up from Dechristianize and even Stench of Redemption. And given that he didn't write a single thing on this release, he delivers just fine. As for Tony Lazaro, his rythm playing is just fine, however his song structures are way too over the top and at some points excruciatingly long to a point where the listener just stops caring.
All this being said, the title track has some great riffs as well as "Born to Rape the World" and "Hammer down the Nails". If you liked Dechristianize you might like this. However, if you've moved on, these guys haven't.
I appreciate what Vital Remains tried to do here, write the biggest and baddest record ever. In one way they succeeded, as very few records can match the insane brutality put on display here. There is a limit however, and they definitely went overboard.
This is the latest offering from staunch death metal veterans Vital Remains, who I enjoy a great deal. The only other record I have from them is Dawn of the Apocalypse, and this is a much different album then that one was. While the Vital Remains of the past played what I called 'epic death metal', this album cranks up the production quality and tones down the acoustic guitar usage. It's a very modern, melodic death metal sound (and I don't mean melodic as in In Flames, either), but sadly I cannot say it's as good as the other album I've heard from them.
The vocals are taken over by Glen Benton of Deicide, who doesn't have a very good death growl anymore. He may have had such a thing 15 years ago, but here he sounds very strained, trying way too hard to sound evil and menacing. His pained, agonized growls are pushed up to the front of the mix, and we hear him way too much, which brings this down a lot. The music is decent at best, with a guitar tone that is not quite as good as the one from 2000's Dawn of the Apocalypse, but still pretty good, and definitely "brutal." The soaring, melodic solos sound a bit out of place, far too clean and polished for what is otherwise a brutal, pounding exercise in visceral death metal, and sometimes they get a bit annoying. The drum sound is pounding and brutal, sounding like the aural equivalent of the cover of this album---nails being furiously hammered into every inch of your tortured flesh. Interpret that as you like. This just never fucking lets you take a breather throughout it's near-70 minute runtime.
All of the songs here are long, tortured exercises in high-speed death metal brutality. It's not easy to distinguish one song from another, which is to be expected with the style of music the band plays. Glen Benton's murderous growls are layered with some almost black-metal screeching, and the guitars just keep pummeling you down further and further. While there are no weak tracks on this disc, I have to say my favorites are the title track, "Born to Rape the World" and the epic " 'til Death." "Return to the Upheaval of Nihility" has some of the acoustic guitar from 'Dawn...', which is a nice touch. It almost gives the song a middle-eastern feeling until the virgin-slaying onslaught starts up again and you're ripped into tiny shreds.
This disc is too fucking long. There are like three tracks here that are longer than eight minutes, and Vital Remains is just not varied enough to warrant such a long, plodding album. This is literally like they took the songs they wrote for the album and just played each one twice over, and slapped it all onto a CD at the end. If these tracks were three or four minutes in length, then the disc would be far more tolerable, and even pretty damn good. As it is, Vital Remains have created a disc from which you can only listen to about two songs before you get bored. There are many better death metal bands out there today, and Deicide themselves had far better albums in their hayday, so just skip this one. It's not bad, but there is certainly better out there. Recommended to VR completists.
Vital Remains – ICONS OF EVIL
It took me some time to actually sit down and write this review. Alas, I feel I might as well just go ahead and get it over with, in a similar vein to someone taking a bowel movement while experiencing hemorrhoids the size of oranges – it will be a painful and onerous task. This being my first “bad” review for the Archives, one would think I might actually enjoy the opportunity to figuratively bash in the skulls of this pathetic pack of Neanderthals. But what is there to enjoy? “Icons of Evil” sucks because it is generic, bland, and absolutely no effort is made to set it apart from any other modern death metal album.
Sitting down on the bus on my way home from school, I thrust my headphones into my ears, eagerly awaiting the chaotic mayhem that is – or now, it seems, was – Vital Remains. “Dechristianize” was an awesome album, and with Deicide’s “The Stench of Redemption” receiving rave reviews and being hailed as their “comeback”, how could Benton go wrong? After a pointless intro, VR cranked up the brutality in the blasting titular track…. which was seven and a half minutes long. Blast beats fused together into endless noise, coupled by repetitive, stagnant riffs. I was asleep by track four. “Death metal” this certainly is; it nearly bored me to death.
When an artist sets out to write a long, intricate song, they are essentially walking a tightrope constructed of dental floss. It is quite a risky endeavor, and their experimentation either results in staggering success or complete failure; there is no middle ground here, folks. So when a song surpasses the seven, eight, nine minute mark, it can be quite brilliant (Neurosis). Or, it can be tragic, as exemplified by everything on this CD. Vital Remains do not create complex, inspired songs; they write boring, run-of-the-mill three to four minute long songs, and then double their length. This is total and complete pompous horseshit; if you cannot write a decent seven or eight minute long song, don’t fool your listeners by writing a shorter song that repeats itself once or twice over. What arrogance and utter disregard for the listener this shows. Shame on you, Mr. Benton.
The only aspects of this epic, monotonous clusterfuck that keep it from receiving a 0% are the production quality and musicianship. Props to Dave Suzuki for doing a masterful job on the guitars, bass, and drum work – the latter is quite brutal and speedy, if I do say so myself. The album is much more balanced than “Dechristianize”; the latter was far too trebly. The neo-classical soloing adds some interesting elements, and Glen Benton’s double-tracked vocals are decent, but they become dull, tired and repetitive over the disc’s VERY long sixty-seven minutes. The lyrics are the usual anti-Christian fodder: “Fuck God, God sucks, let’s gang up and kill God, etc.” There is nothing wrong with blasphemous songwriting, and it is possible to create original and engaging anti-Christian material in this day and age. But it must be done in a manner that has certain edginess to it. And on that note, I recommend that you pass up this piece of junk in favor of Behemoth’s “The Apostasy,” which is essentially what this album would sound like if Vital Remains weren’t complete fucking idiots. Life is short and precious. Do not kill sixty-seven minutes of your life on this piece of shit.
There a few things wrong with this release. First, the production is terrible. Second, the instruments sound bad. Third, the vocals sound very tired and uninspired. Fourth, It's too damned long.
The production value is very low on this album. It takes away from the ferocity of the album. If they were trying to go for atmosphere, well, they messed up. Too much atmosphere makes a bad production job.
I don't know if it's the production or what, but the instruments are muddled. They seem to come together and make a messy and displaced sound. Those fucking guitars man. What was Dave Suzuki thinking when he was making this album? I heard little to no lead in this album. It's just Tony Lazaro playing his "rhythmic" riffs about 50 times or so in a row. I think Lazaro was feeling a little stupid after the amazing job Suzuki did with the lead in Dechrsitianize. He probably wanted to be cool and said "I can do that too". No, you can't Tony. Just disappear into obscurity, like a good rhythm guitarist. And what with the extreme downtuning? Tuning your guitars down to B doesn't automatically make you a 'tr00' death metal band. You were fine with tuning in D when you made Dechristianize, weren't you? Now for the drums. They sound like empty, hollowed things that were beaten into obscurity. (Yes, I know that's what the definition of 'drums' usually is, but these 'drums' have a sound rivaling that of Lar$' trash cans on St. Anger, just a little bit lower and more in the background.) The bass, you ask? What bass? Those guitars are so downtuned, they make their own bass. Who needs bass in an album like this?
Glen Benton is getting old. It shows with this album. Those vocals are by far his worst performance. Yes, they are even worse than In Torment In Hell and Insineratehymn. They are so uninspired and tired that you can taste the blandness of the vox after every song. It's not a good taste.
I don't mind a good long album, not at all. But this is not 67 minutes well spent. They turned what should have been maybe 50 minutes into over an hour. It feels like one whole song, just broken up into parts. The 20% I gave to this album came from liking the intro, just because it made me laugh, and Hammer Down The Nails. That song is actually listenable. I actually found myself headbanging to it.
You know what though? I can still say I'm a fan of Vital Remains. I loved all of their previous works. If you're just getting into Vital Remains, however, steer clear of this release. Hell, just steer clear of this album in general. If you want good VR, check out Let Us Pray and Dechristianize.
What happens 4-5 minute songs become 7-9 minute songs? Boredom. Every song is played twice. 8 Minute songs are not automatically a recipe for being epic and this album proves it, painfully.
Glen Benton's vocal performance is uninspired to say the very least and is the main reason why hearing each song twice in a row is so boring.
The song structure is very predictable. The guitar work is very similar to Dechristianize. Let's see...Intro riff, typical verse riff, neo-classical-esque chorus, some uninteresting solo that seems to be the same on each song, rinse and repeat but replace the boring solo the second time around with an ending riff occasionally. Now couple that with a monotonous vocal and you can't even enjoy the song the first time around because by time you get to the chorus you start getting pissed that you're going to have to listen to it a second time.
If these songs were 5 minutes long this would be a pretty good release though the tired vocals would still hold it back.
If you're interested in checking out Vital Remains pick up Dechristianize.
Speaking as somebody who remembers the early demo/7" days of these Rhode Island deathsters, Vital Remains have come a long way since the relatively crude "Frozen Terror". They've polished their sound into a highly impressive display of technicality meeting flat out madness over the last years, especially the last several years, and a lot of this is due to the addition of Nevada native Dave Suzuki.
A few words about Mr. Suzuki: his father is one of Japan's top jazz pianists and his mother is an opera singer, accounting for the fact he has some major talent that comes to the fore and then some on this album. His lead guitar work is truly amazing! Most guys seem to think they're "classically-influenced" just because they sweep and sweep and sweep pick away (are you listening, Moyses Kolesne? Learn a new solo already!), but Dave's leads are honest to goodness classical melodies that are beautiful and soar high like a terrible, beautiful angel of death over the carnage of the riffing that Tony Lazaro lays down on the guitar and bass front. He also is a very emotional player as well, incorporating tasteful bending and vibrato and his harmonies are meticulously tracked. "Reborn...The Upheaval of Nihility" even features some sweet and tasty acoustic guitar plucking that really adds another shade of subtlety (relatively speaking) the their sound.
Let us not forget the fact that the likes of Inferno, Frost, Tony Laureano, George Kollias, and Pete Sandoval had better look to their sides, because Dave is right up there with them in the blasting department. Not behind, making them watch their backs, but right up there with them and threatening to leave them behind such is the furious speed and precision of his playing. Yes, his kick drums are triggered, I will cut him slack because if he went any faster his kit would fall apart from the vibrations. His blasting is interspersed with more traditional thrash beats and slower parts as well, showing he is a diverse player and he also gets some creative double kick syncopation going here and there too.
Tony Lazaro is no slouch in the riffing department either, laying it down with intense fervor, but this is where I start to have minor issues with the album. Like many reviewers on here, I am inclined to agree that Tony needs to edit his songs a bit more and not repeat riffs so much. If each song had been about a minute or two shorter this would've not been so much an issue. And he repeats the same riff on the slow parts of "Icons Of Evil" and "Scorned", something I deleted points for for lack of creativity. It's only slightly different, but it may as well be the same. Tony has ambition, though, I will give him credit for attempting a more interesting and epic album each time out the starting gate. If the songs had been a little shorter, this album would've gotten a much higher rating; as they are now, they feel a tad bloated and excessive, especially when they repeat the same parts just as you think the song is coming to an end. Repetition is not always a good thing.
A bigger issue is another thing that's been pointed out that I agree with; Glen Benton. His bellowing and belching may fit Deicide's more straightforward sound, but for something this technical and classy, relatively speaking again, a more diversified vocal approach would've done the music far much more justice. Especially since the lyrics are relatively intelligent as this style of music goes (Dave strikes again), it's a shame to hear them done such a disservice by such a one-dimensional vocalist.
I'd say, though, that for the most part Vital Remains connects hard with this album. They succeed with their attempts at incorporating more subtle and melodic elements on the lead guitar front into the frenzied blur of killing force riffage and the devastating drum work, and I respect them highly for being ambitious enough to try this and to diversify their sound to enable themselves to last this long. I enjoy this album a lot and look forward to seeing what they do next, myself. A different vocalist, maybe, though, next time around? Then we may well have a truly beautiful disaster on our hands!
This album, hands down, sets the bar for death metal. We think our fans will soon agree without question that this is our "Reign In Blood"- Tony Lazaro of Vital Remains
That's quite a bold statement, isn't it? I mean for Mr. Lazaro to compare one of his works with Slayer's masterpiece is certainly a gutsy claim, but is he actually serious? After further speculation, Vital Remains has been often blessed with pleasant records since 1992, but the barrier between greatness and perfection always seemed to be blocked by a tiny complication of some sort. The death metal outfit progressively became more consistent as time went on, but improvement was still needed in certain areas of their music; however, the corrections have been made, and perfection has finally been reached. Just like Slayer did with "Reign In Blood," Vital Remains finally masters everything they've been trying to express with "Icons of Evil," which, as Tony said, sets the bar for death metal as we know it.
"Dechristianize" evolved Vital Remains' appearance into a sturdy formula of blastbeats, fierce riffing, and neoclassical leads that allowed the group to settle on a permanent form. The only complication that emerged from this recipe was the mass repetition of riffs, drum patterns, and other musical characteristics; however, these mistakes are corrected and perfected on "Icons of Evil." Any kind of musical redundancy or duplication is simply withdrawn from this album's atmosphere; this kind of freedom permits Dave Suzuki and Tony Lazaro to unleash a flood of flashing riffs, striking mid-paced sections, and beautiful neoclassical solos without mirroring any familiar parts. Nearly all the songs continue the Vital Remains tradition of passing the six minute marker, but the routine process is mastered by adding multiple tempo changes in each track. All nine tunes feature separate musical arrangements, but you can expect alternating intervals of brutal death metal, stellar sections of intermediate riffing, and prime soloing efforts throughout each slice of material. "Icons of Evil" is much like a cyborg; it has all the healthy parts of "Dechristianize" with some extra gadgets applied for better musical quality.
"Icons of Evil" is unconditionally fantastic, but the creators of this masterpiece prove themselves to be some of the most talented and intelligent musicians known to death metal. Beside Glen Benton on vocals, Dave Suzuki and Tony Lazaro were the only folks involved with the writing and recording stages of this disc. Lazaro's classic writing style is certainly a beefy quality of Vital Remains' music, because of his tendency to focus death metal elements while adding in dashes of melody and other components important to the sound of "Icons of Evil." His creativity begins to shine with the brilliant decision to figure acoustic solos in "Reborn...The Upheaval of Nihility," and the diverse chord progression throughout "Hammer Down The Nails." These special attachments are only scratching the surface of Lazaro's poetic display of death metal on this incredible record.
There are many talented musicians involved with the metal scene, but I'll be damned if any of them could top Dave Suzuki. When this CD was recorded, Suzuki played every drum beat, every bass line, every riff, and every solo. Dave is far from a pushover though; he sounds very tight when shredding, and even more so when drumming. The fills and spontaneous tom rolls he brings forth are simply insane, yet he's able to switch into a normal pace without messing up the percussion rhythm. When the day ends, Lazaro and Suzuki stand as one of metal's most powerful teams. Hell, I'm daring to say Suzuki and Larzaro are undoubtedly the greatest death metal duo the world will ever see.
Well, it appears Tony was right about his little comparison with "Reign in Blood" and "Icons of Evil." Throughout the existence of Vital Remains, there have been several noteworthy releases, but "Icons of Evil" unquestionably tops the list. This here isn't just a perfect record, but a lesson in death metal as it was meant to be taught. Maybe we should listen to Tony more often!
In the movie Blade, the title character (who is half vampire and half mortal) is described by a vampire as having "all of our strengths, none of our weaknesses". (Among other things, Blade is unharmed by sunlight, earning him the title "Daywalker".) I will claim that Vital Remains - Icons of Evil, compared to its very popular predecessor, Dechristianize, is such a Daywalker, sharing all of the strengths of Dechristianize but none (or few) of its weaknesses. (For the record: IMO, Dechristianize is an awesome album, worth a rating of more than 90%, but with some significant flaws regardless. I will be returning to this below.)
At first listen, Icons of Evil sounds completely like "Dechristianize II": fast, brutal, intense death metal with long, somewhat repetitive songs and satanic lyrics. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that Icons of Evil is indeed very similar to Dechristianize, but there are also some differences. In the following, I will do a critical comparison of the two albums, their similarities and differences.
Let us look at the similarities first.
Icons of Evil fully delivers what we've come to expect from Vital Remains by now: an album packed with furious, energetic, blastbeat-driven songs full of hate and brutality. To break the monotonicity of nonstop blastbeats, there are also slower parts of crushing doominess, melodic guitar leads and even the occasional acoustic guitar scattered throughout the songs. The songs are long (six to nine minutes) and the lyrics deal with the rising of Hell's legions and the destruction of Christianity and all that is good. One song is an exception: In Infamy is a tribute to "our fallen brothers", ie., various metal musicians who died young.
One thing I particularly love about Vital Remains are the vocal lines. Where much death metal has vocal rhythms that are either extremely simple and boring or extremely chaotic and impossible to follow, Vital Remains have struck the perfect compromise: vocal rhythms that are catchy and easily memorable, yet at the same time very diverse and energetic.
As on Dechristianize, the vocals are done by Glen Benton. Now, I am a big fan of Glen, but I am not so impressed by the way he sounds on this album. His voice sounds a bit flat and hoarse here, not as bass-rich and menacing as on Dechristianize or Deicide's In Torment in Hell or Scars of the Crucifix. I don't know whether it's Glen's own performance or the recording and production that is to blame, but Icons of Evil has not the best vocal work I've heard from Glen. It's still good, better than most death vocals IMO, it's just not his best work.
Now on to the significant differences that sets Icons of Evil apart from Dechristianize.
First off, the rhythm guitars are better. The rhythm guitar lines on Dechristianize are very brutal, but they are also very monotonous, most of the time simply long, intense streams of 16th notes, which gets boring in the end. The riffs on Icons of Evil are more varied and much more interesting. In this respect, Icons of Evil represents a bit of a return to the style of Dawn of the Apocalypse (the predecessor to Dechristianize), which, IMO, had great rhythm guitar riffs.
Second, the production is better. Now, the production on Dechristianize is good, but it still annoys me somewhat. First, the guitar sound on Dechristianize is too treble-rich, making it uncomfortable to the ears at loud volumes. If I listen to Dechristianize at the loud volume it deserves, I can't do it in one go. I have to take pauses to rest my ears because there's too much treble in the guitar sound. Icons of Evil has a better guitar sound: heavy and massive, with plenty of both bass and treble, but without being painful to the ears. The drum sound is also better. Compared to the thin "frying pan" snare drum on Dechristianize, Icons of Evil has a more powerful drum sound that is, while not among the best drum sounds ever, at least some of the best I've heard from Vital Remains. My only problem with the production here is that the vocals are a bit too loud. I'd like to have a bit more focus on the drums and guitars.
Now a few flaws of the album:
Like Dechristianize, Icons of Evil suffers from being monotonous. The songs are awesome, brutal, heavy and energetic, but they are also quite alike. Sure, some of them are better than others, but none is really DIFFERENT. Now, no one appreciates long songs and albums more than I, and for me it's awesome that the album is 67 minutes long, but for such a long album, I would expect some more diversity in the songs.
Another flaw is that there is little evolution to be heard on the album. As I've said above, the guitar riffs are better, but other than that, Icons of Evil really IS "Dechristianize II". This is not so great a problem to me. My attention span is not so short that I can't endure two albums in a row that are very similar. I still love it. I hope, however, that this is not a trend that will continue from Vital Remains. Two very similar albums in a row are fine, but I expect a bit more innovation next time. If the follow-up to Icons of Evil turns out to be "Dechristianize III", then it's going to get boring.
To sum it all up:
Icons of Evil is an awesome album, one of my favourite death metal albums ever. It delivers all the fury and brutality one would expect of the follow-up to Dechristianize, and more besides, with improvements over its popular predecessor in some important areas.
It's been four years since the awesome Death Metal machine known as Vital Remains unleashed the brutal Dechristianize on an unsuspecting world. That album has a near-legendary rep, and few thought it could be surpassed, but I say Icons Of Evil is Vital Remains' best album ever, and certainly the Death Metal album to beat this year.
I like Dechristianize a lot, but I think it was a bit too brutal for its own good, and the complex, epic songwriting got lost in the speed and stacatto deathgrunts. This album is like all the good parts of that album turned up three notches. Icons Of Evil is pure Vital Remains – over an hour of high-speed slayage including several songs well over the 8-minute mark. It boggles my mind how this band can cram so much into one song, but the blistering, hellish title track alone will rip you a new one with a zillion riffs and those glorious, breathtaking melodic leads that are a VR hallmark. I'd pick favorites on this disc, but there's just not a weak track on here with the possible exception of the closer "Disciples Of Hell", which is oddly flat. Here and there the band gets a bit monotonous, but only in bits.
This is a Death Metal album destined for classic status. As good as this band's last disc was, Icons Of Evil blows it completely out of the water. Perhaps only Nile come close to this kind of searing speed and fury, certainly no other Death Metal band really comes close to this kind of feral madness. Glen Benton may have brought Deicide back from the brink of irrelevancy last year, but I think this album blows The Stench Of Redemption away. For fast, furious Satanic Death Metal killing, this is the shit. Get it.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
I'm re-writing this review because giving it a 5 was going a bit overboard, after all - I have to consider that there are bands like Trivium and Meshuggah in the world.
However that doesn't change the fact that this album is a chore. If you want to enjoy it, listen to one minute of a song, then skip to the next.
Drums: Do fills with pauses for riff to be played four times, come in with ceaseless blast beat with ceaseless double bass at 250+ beats per minute (that's tempo, not the actual hits on the snare) Do occasional "switch beat", at half blast beat speed to feign variety.
Vocals: Sound like an aging death metal icon who's lost any passion he may or may not have ever had for a lost cause to free humanity from Christianity. After singing 4 lines, use screams to back up the next 4 lines, because your vocals are airy and laughable and this might help to mask that fact. Write the same lyrics with different song titles about killing Jesus, even though he's already dead. Instead of actually making an intelligent argument against Christianity, simply continue to write lyrics about Hell, the apocalypse, and killing Jesus, because that of course, will convince everyone not to be Christians and not because that's what's expected of you, being the evil, evil, evil band you are (this isn't a complaint about this band alone, it's a complaint about all "Satanic" bands who don't say anything intelligent. They even say moderately intelligent things about it in interviews, but they're lyrics are all the same contrived junk. Seriously, if you really want to destroy Christianity, why not make a real, valid, and intelligent argument against it, rather than trying to piss Christians off and in turn just strengthening their beliefs, while all the 16 year old death metallers giggle about your childish lyrics, which of course, you've been repeating since you were their age. Morons.)
Guitar: Play rehashed death metal riff. Play it again. Play it again. Play it again. Play it again. Play it again. Play it again. Play it again. Perhaps play two more riffs the same amount of times and stretch them out to obscenely boring, repetitive songs and fail miserably at being at all epic.
Song writing: Don’t forget to make every song in the same key, at the same tempo, with a similar chord progression, with the same vocal pattern, and the same obtuse lyrics.
Yes, of course, it’s fast, the guitar solos are wicked (though very similar sounding) and yes it’s brutal. And those are the only reasons I give it any points at all. But other than that, no emotion, no intelligence, little creativity, no originality, no diversity, no song writing finesse and not a whole lot of talent. It's tiring, and worst of all it's contrived. This band really plays exactly what is expected of them. Minus originality, and variation.
And yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of death metal, I go through small phases of it here and there, but if this is great death metal, then I've really lost interest in ever hearing a new death metal band again.
It's unoriginal: they've released the same lyrics to the same music however many times now. It's predictable. It's contrived. The anti-Christian lyrics - great idea, really it is. In fact, it's one of my favorite lyrical themes, the problem is - it's not a new idea. It's an idea that's been done to death, and this band has beaten it into the ground like it was Christ himself. If you're really concerned with fighting against Christianity as you say in your interviews, you should probably be a tad more tactful and intelligent about it; and making your music an obsenely elongated chore doesn't help any.
After a few years of extensive touring, Vital Remains have returned with the follow-up to "Dechristianize", and it could indeed be considered "Dechristianize 2". The elements are all pretty much the same: overused double-tracked vocals, overlong tracks, relentless blastbeats and neverending clicky double bass drum salvoes, and as a counterweight large portions of melodic lead guitar material and neoclassical solos. And again, a production that is brutal in its clarity, yet utterly sterile (though at least the snare isn't so tinny this time).
It really is a shame, because there's a lot of talent on display here. I'm essentially talking about Dave Suzuki, who handles both drumming and lead guitar duties, and is a remarkable performer (and has played both instruments live). He knows just how to pour beautiful streams of notes out of his guitar in the midst of almost Maiden-esque harmonies - but we heard it all four years ago. As for Tony Lazaro, who's responsible for all the songwriting: he needs some serious lessons in variety. Not within a single song; with most of the songs clocking in at 7-8 minutes, there's time for plenty of different sections. But the songs just don't sound very different from one another, unfortunately. The same riffs surface again and again, and we've heard them all somewhere else already. Truly, I don't know how musicians can remember which bits belong to which song on stage when they're all so similar.
And once again we have a dominant Glen Benton, often in duplicate. I have always found him one of the most boring death metal vocalists, being both devoid of variety and utterly bland, no matter how high and overpowering he might be in the mix. But this ties in with the rest of the music's components: big and fat, but lifeless and uninteresting. I'll give them one thing: this time around, they use the excessive song durations to put a bit more different material in each one, rather than essentially playing each song twice as they did on "Dechristianize". But as I said, that doesn't change much in the final reckoning.
Time and again one can witness how artists find a formula, then stick to it - and that's the worst thing that can happen. I've given this album 50% because there's a lot of ability here, but if I were being a bit more dogmatic and hardcore about it, I could imagine giving it much less, as it's pretty much a pre-fabricated product. "Underground"? My arse! This is high-polish stuff, with not a trace of underground roughness to it. "Dawn of the Apocalypse" sounded a lot more authentic. As for the lyrics/image/artwork, it's naturally the same unbelievably tired anti-Christian and Satanic clichés. Come on, does the world really need yet more of this? How about showing a bit of imagination?