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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.