“It’s over. She’s gotten too fancy for us.”
Angels of Steel
Prayer to the God of War
Feel My Pain
Send Me Back to Hell
All old-school Vader fans need to take a moment to accept that no matter how many times we drive past Vader’s house at 3 in the morning, they have moved on. There will be no reconciliation, no blast beat filled make up sex, no insanely loud Litany bass drum, and no decapitating of saints. It’s over. She’s gotten too fancy for us.
In fairness, a band active since 1983 should not be expected to repeat the same material, over and over. But, at the same time, there is a question of integrity. Slayer and Metallica are classic examples of bands that burst through the front door based on pure power and aggression, as they progressed, they cleaned up their sound. Perhaps the modernizing of those band’s sounds came due to natural progression, human maturity, realizing that toning down the intensity draws in a lot more fans that are less particular about the quality of what they’re consuming, writing beyond experience or just plain complacency. There are numerous bands that have taken this path; Morbid Angel (Illud Divinum Insanus), Darkthrone (from death metal to black metal to crust), and Satyricon (from black metal to Sisters of Mercy cosplay) to name a few, it is common and nearly commonplace as we see bands growing increasingly older and older.
Even when approaching Vader’s newest full-length, The Empire, without bias, it still stands as only a slightly above average listen, with some weak passages and the occasional vapor trail of old-school joy that says more ‘underground’ than ‘funderground’.
Ripping thrash riff or Megadeth castoff? The choice of drastically cutting down the song’s tempo in the middle of track is an interesting bit of decision making. ‘Angels of Steel’ is a good example of the theme and song construction embodied in most of The Empire. The bulk majority of the album plays like modern thrash with modern death metal accenting.
Songs such as ‘Tempest’, ‘No Gravity’ and ‘Parabellum’ are more of a throwback to the old days, featuring the long, tremolo picked, highly phrasal single note movements and three note chords paired with staccato palm muting that was the selling point of many of Vader’s older songs in terms of front-end songwriting.
And then there are tracks such as ‘Iron Reign’. Beer metal shilling and synchronized fist-pumping. Impotent and uninspired. Drums are reduced to simple timekeeping duties and a flat boring riff jerks itself off cyclically into a corner. In terms of intensity, ‘Iron Reign’ is single tier above Five Finger Death Punch. This is indicative to a larger problem.
As bands get older, extreme bands in particular, the intensity that made them great will eventually decline. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from physical conditioning to changing tastes and artistic concepts, but a sacrifice or decline in intensity of any sort would be best compensated for. Focusing on melodic aspects or adding details like harmonized guitar lines are simple examples to compensate for a drop in intensity. Kreator is an excellent example, going from the ripping thrash of Pleasure to Kill to the less heavy, but much more anthem-like uptempo heavy metal of their current era. Other bands have attempted this route, and have produced St. Angers instead. As with all and everything, some things will die faster than others.
Production is modern, emphasis on the vocals and sawing of the guitars. The drums are loud and vibrant but tend to become noisy and overly bombastic during faster song portions. The backing vocals feel like an afterthought.
It would be unfair to pan The Empire purely because it doesn’t reference material from decades ago. This is Vader at the core, but also what is most likely the downhill portion of their career. In comparison to contemporary country mates such as Behemoth, Decapitated and Mgla, Vader still can compete and maybe even exceed the level of quality collectively established by the current material of those bands. It is safe to say that the days of crushing Polish death metal may be in the sunset stage for Vader, but the band still has a very real capacity for producing tank-killing riffs and songs of strong constitution.