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Dark, rough and distinctly '80s - 65%

Byrgan, May 17th, 2010

Five years and another album in the millennium later and Vulcano are at it this time with bringing back the energetic days of yore with speed/thrash metal with a tinge of death. 'Five Skulls and One Chalice' is a grab-bag of a middling chunk of the '80s along the lines of Venom, Slayer, Dark Angel, Razor, Exciter, Exodus and highlights of other adventurous bands at the time and just before Vulcano themselves started.

While their last return of an album added some nineties death metal influences with their thrash playing, this is mostly just eighties inspired. The speed mainly peaks at an aggressive, every-other-click beat, and on occasion they take it down a few pegs and play at tempered mid-range momentums. The vocals offer a fluctuating hoarseness: the kind that has a cold, infects the other band members and can also reach out to the listeners with its devastating viral strain. The guitars are heavy centered on these techniques: distinctive progressions that fall in the range of anything from classic speed metal like Accept's 'Restless and Wild' to harder hitting thrash like Slayer's 'Reign in Blood,' of course blended with their own interpretations and added Brazilian touches. They spout emulated solos that would have enthusiastically blared from LP players and tape decks in the mid-'80s era: heavily reverbed, dive bomb crazy, whammy insane—and with their volume raised when they're shredding overtop, it adds some needed change and variation when the rhythm might start to overcook. The medium tone and distortion on the guitars is what seals the deal with sounding like it ripped through a time warp from that period. If this wasn't blended with speed metal I would say that a thicker or burlier guitar tone would have fit better as some of the thrash flavored ones could have used more bulk; rough and dirty sounding: yes, massive and crushing: no. Then again I can imagine they were thinking if not, it would have been like watching a movie reminiscing that generation without the tight and torn jeans (for extra breathing room), short cut bangs with long hair (to make headbanging less eye-bothersome), or even hi-top basketball shoes (that even non-basketball playing folks can participate with). Its essence could have been contaminated without all of those particular, some would by now say "customary," characteristics; it is what it is, was what it was.

You can still tell it's Angel vocalizing but his performance is altered in some ways compared to the last album, though not all for the better. When he gets going Angel is a constant vocalist, one who continually breathes into the microphone. While I think this has moments that can work for him here, it can also be an experience that resembles resisting an itch: the more you think about it, all you can do is concentrate on it or think how much of a relief it would be to fix the situation by simply scratching at it or using Zen to block it out. This comes about when he repeats certain choruses ad nauseam or when he uses a higher tone. The first track sounds pretty irritating with both aspects and wasn't the greatest way to open up the album. Since he fluctuates and slightly changes his vocal style around during the span of the recordings with partial shouts and slightly deeper tones, these just mentioned aspects come about here and there. Yet again, it could partly be the fault of where they're placed in the mix. For instance, he might dominate a riff that should have been played side by side instead of that same riff trailing his, in some cases unimposing, shadow. And the mixing of the guitars can share some of the blame as well, where its tone and loudness shifts depending on the particular track: sometimes hidden, sometimes prominent; it could be them wanting to go for a spontaneous or free feel, like a faint DIY punk ideology where it doesn't come across as hampered down or too manipulated, except this sounds like a decent studio where the production was purposely roughened up. I've listened to this a bunch of times by now and have gotten somewhat used to his vocals since other aspects of their music will persuade me to keep pumping my fist and banging my head. Though this is disappointing compared to what he's done on 'Live,' 'Bloody Vengeance,' and even the last full length 'Tales from the Black Book.' Since his methods are loose and his way of projecting himself is more unorthodox, I can reason that it would be unintentional for him to easily step out of his former self without realizing it. Even though he has a vocal style unlike any other, there are times here where he doesn't seem master of his domain; like he's playing catch up, instead of being right on top of a certain section. Close enough, but not always there excelling at it.

With some recordings you're constantly nodding in agreement, being thoroughly satisfied as it unfolds into your ears, and nothing's worse than the last note suddenly being struck and the experience prematurely dying, causing most of us to end up cursing the band in vain for more. To about-face that sentiment, with others it can feel a couple of songs too long. 'Five Skulls and One Chalice' went over its mark with some pieces that feel slightly stretched and where its validity is double validated. Like a buddy in a drunken stupor, besides telling you he loooves you, his mind gets caught in a loop and repeats or goes beyond his point. Though Vulcano does have capable moments that bring back distinctly '80s sounding music as they were right there doing it at the pivotal growth of certain styles and techniques incorporating it with their own individualistic Brazilian nature. And with their mind-set here, I got to respect them in their older age, since Vulcano didn't switch up their ideologies for life's little struggles where other bands began to soften up as the years stacked on. I think they would have benefited from some more stand out musical characteristics that would urge a listener to come back to it or more areas that would make your ears perk up; condensing certain sections could have helped also to bring out the best of the best since this does have worthy moments but not an onward rush of them. They still manage to add some streaks of color to black and white pictures that have been traced dozens of times over, and although 'Five Skulls and One Chalice' isn't essential enough to bump the classics off your shelves, the music can be rough, dark, nostalgic and to certain degrees entertaining.