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Space Jammed - 71%

Tanuki, June 19th, 2019

They say science fiction is among the hardest genres to write effectively. Expressing abstract ideas to an audience, without stuffing it full of technobabble or leaving too much to the imagination, requires a lot of finesse. But does anyone appreciate all the hard work I put into my Xenomorph Queen X Male Reader fan-fiction? Nooo. By contrast, Vektor had several metric tons of appreciation dumped on their heads after Black Future, courtesy of jaded thrash fans thoroughly sick of the bad riffs, bad production, and bad Repka album covers that defined the NWOTM scene at the time.

Being the remarkable outlier that they were, and keen to show the world what they could do with a bigger budget, Vektor was no doubt feeling cocky. Outer Isolation, after all, was to be the flashy Hollywood blockbuster to Black Future's plucky cult classic. In this respect, I consider this album Vektor's Ride the Lightning; it bridges the gap between the raw emotion of what preceded it, and the melodramatic bombast that would follow. Trouble is, this album (unlike Ride the Lightning) came down with a bad case of George Lucas Syndrome. If you're lucky enough to not know what that means, allow me to depress you: it's when the writing quality becomes inversely proportional with the budget. Hope you enjoy those shiny and increasingly meaningless setpieces, because they're at the expense of overall coherency and memorability.

That's not to say this record is lacking distinction. Vektor still manages to capture the discordant, unsettling spirit of "man vs. machine" horror, embellishing songs with frightening harmonics and haywire thrash riffs that gallop and flail like downed power lines. To punctuate the mayhem, returning drummer Blake Anderson outdoes himself with a salvo of mindbending polyrhythms and hammering blastbeats. Unfortunately, the ever-shifting mirage of timekeeping highlights the biggest problem I have with this album. Ironically, it's the same thing I praised Black Future for.

The pacing of this album is a mess. Outer Isolation offers very little flow as it huffs and puffs from one bloated song to the next. This is in part due to many songs being pinched and repurposed from disparate demos, with 'Venus Project' dating all the way back to 2004's Nucleus. In addition, the pacing suffers from the arrant predictably of song structures as a whole. Atmospheric openers seemingly always transition to carefully timed mid-tempo grooves, which will then inevitably burst into a frenzied crescendo. This holds true for the first three tracks in a row, in addition to 'Dark Creations, Dead Creators' and the title track. For the amount of effort put into the constant, herky-jerk time signature changes, did no one notice that their overall mystique was being ruined by the incredibly predictable formula overall?

'Echoless Chamber' is particularly guilty of this. After the ten minute opener, three minutes of which spent entirely on building suspense, I didn't need the very next track to spend another two minutes doing the exact same thing but with shiftless noodling in the background. However, once this song finally picks up, it really picks up; the primary riff (though distractingly similar to Doom's 'E1M1') is monstrous, and the harmonizing fretwork that follows is very ambitious, reminding me of the techniques employed throughout 'Nostradamus' from Coroner's superb debut R.I.P. In a similar fashion, my personal favorite track from this album is the title track, which ebbs and flows naturally, fully earning its annihilative crescendo without feeling contrived.

It may not be entirely obvious based on what I've said so far, but I should mention the actual musicianship of Outer Isolation is top shelf. Some may say the grindy, mechanized production gives it a cold, sterile feeling, but I think that was the intention. (Just a hunch.) Speaking of things I should've mentioned a long time ago, the shrill squawks of David DiSanto were easily the most polarizing aspect of Vektor when they were first making tidal waves in the NWOTM scene. They're back in full force after Black Future, arguably even crazier than before. 'Tetrastructural Mind' offers some ballistic screams that sound like rubbing a balloon against a window pane. The warbling shrieks employed are appropriately eccentric for the riffing mayhem they complement, but I don't think they're as one-of-a-kind or game-changing as people like to claim. Because, y'know. I've heard of a band called Razor.

But I digress, and further, I come to the realization that I am ultimately insignificant in this cold, merciless vacuum of space. My opinions, my reviews, (and my fan-fiction entitled In Space, No One Can Hear You Cream) are but specks of dust in the cosmos, never to be unsettled again.