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Swapping the sledgehammer for the meathook - 86%

BastardHead, September 29th, 2008

I've made it fairly well known that I find Vader to be one of the most consistently fantastic groups in heavy metal history, and that every album has it's own unique quality that makes it great. The irony of that statement is that they've essentially taken a page out of Running Wild's book and released the same album over and over again for a decade. But again, just like the German speed metal legends, each and every album has more than it's fair share of classics. Every album had at least one of those instantly recognizable fan favorites. Imagine Litany without Wings, imagine Black to the Blind without Carnal, Vader has always had at least one song that defined not only the album in question, but the philosophy of the band as a whole. Their current latest, Impressions in Blood, is no different in that department, but there is definitely a sonic difference when it comes down to it.

Over the years, Vader has been mauling fans with the fabled sledgehammer. A simple device that anybody can effectively use, but none with as much flair and familiarity as our favorite pissed off Pollacks. Ever since before The Ultimate Incantation, listeners have been mercilessly sledged into submission. It's always been constant pummeling straight from the get go, and there has never been anything wrong with that. Upon first listen of this album, listeners are instead greeted with a symphonic instrumental opener. Okay, so Vader has fallen into the trend of useless time wasters as album openers that do absolutely nothing for the album or upcoming song, but hey, everybody flubs up once right? Sure enough, the opening riffs to Shadowfear confirm most fans' fears, something has changed. The first semblance of Vader's classic furious blasting death doesn't rear it's mangled head until a full minute into the first song. The old school mercilessness fills only approximately two thirds of the record, with the other third being filled by a slower, slightly more melodic riffing style or silly tribal drum beats. Daray attempting to recreate the classic drum groove in the beginning of Kreator's Terror Zone by banging on a timpani with what sounds like rubber mallets is a novel idea when it first appears in As Heavens Collide, but what was once thought to be an experimental one-off really becomes awkward when it starts happening every other song. Imagine you're fast asleep, and one of your buddies drunkenly stumbles into your bed, kisses your neck, and proposes a session of orgasmic delight. As soon as you inevitably perk up and offer to pound him into oblivion, he shrieks and jumps out from under the covers. He then, humiliated beyond belief, shuffles over to the room where his girlfriend is sleeping. The first time this happens, it's uncomfortable and unsettling, but at the same time it's cunt blastingly funny. But if this were to happen every other night, you'd likely distance yourself from said friend. And as such, I feel like turning this album off and cranking up De Profundis after the third or fourth time a renowned death metal drummer starts beefing bongos with his face.

I guess what the previous joke was trying to say is that Vader have, in a spiritual sense, given up the method of garnering attention and fans with relentless brutality, and have instead opted for something a little more groovy and catchy. Keep in mind that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it just seems like they are out of their element here... experimenting just for the sake of being different. Naught but two songs are devoid of this newfound love of all that is downtempo and chugtastic. Be it a somewhat modern styled breakdown or the aforementioned tribal tom beats, virtually nothing escapes its clutches. Now I must assure you that Vader is one of those bands that can manage to rise above a bad decision, and actually craft songs that work extremely well in this style. The Book is a great example. It's midpaced with a relatively simplistic main riff, but it ends up being memorable and carries a bizarre feeling of mystique instead of being boring and plodding. And like I had previously mentioned, most songs alternate between the newer experimental elements and the archaic demolition of old school Vader, so songs like Warlords and Helleluyah (God is Dead) also end up as a delightful mixture of new and old instead of an awkward one. I find the main attraction of the album to actually be the second half of it, housing tracks like Red Code and They Live, both of which sound like they could've been on Litany. And as previously mentioned, The Book is a great chugger as opposed to a terrible one like Predator. These tracks also contain some semi-impressive leads, another rarity for the band. If they had a solo in the past, it was usually Kerry King whammy madness, whereas a couple of these are a little bit more traditionally structured and executed with a thrasher's mentality.

So after all these years, Vader has finally shifted their modus operandi. The vintage sledgehammer beating has been retired in favor of the meathook disfigurement. Instead of pounding your skull in for the duration of the attack, they have now taken a liking to jabbing a meathook into your body, dragging you for a couple of feet, tearing said hook out and forcefully reinserting it elsewhere before starting the cycle over again. The change is a little discomforting at first, but their execution is good enough for you to overlook the difference. Standout tracks are Helleluyah, They Live, Red Code, and The Book, with the rest being rather hit or miss, with only Predator standing as the lone shitty track, sporting a boring plod as opposed to a pumping groove, and an insidiously annoying fade out that lasts nearly a minute and a half. If you are one of those who can't get past the new direction, my advice is to just give it time. And if it never grows on you, there is no need to fear, for De Profundis will never change. The good ol' sledge is always near if you need a quick fix, but Impressions in Blood is a fairly welcome change of pace to help spice up a catalog that was beginning to grow stale. Let us hope that they can keep this balance well enough, for a sharp shift back to the old style would probably end up being a collection of rehashes, and a continuation into this newer, catchier, groovier territory could just as likely yield nauseously bad results.