without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
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.