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Hail Santa! - 15%

Brutality_Junkie, March 17th, 2013

Oh wait, wrong bullshit.

Honest mistake.

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.