Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Vektor - Terminal Redux

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the ANGRY DOME

Look, hype backlash is a real thing, and I fall victim to it just as much as anybody.  Oddly enough, Vektor has been somewhat immune to it for me, as Outer Isolation was met with universal praise when it dropped, and I agreed so hard that it wound up taking my Album of the Year in 2011.  Black Future is often praised as the one shining beacon of innovation, musicianship, and songwriting in the murky swamp of rethrash, and I love that album so much that I claim it has some of the greatest thrash riffs ever written and even ranked it at #9 in my massive list of the Best Albums of the Decade, above perennial heavyweights like Primordial, Vader, Slough Feg, and even my beloved pet favorite Gargoyle.  The point is that Vektor is the real fucking deal, and they're currently in their prime and expanding their sound, and Outer Isolation managed to one up that monumental debut by polishing up all of the tiny missteps like the jarring transitions when they'd write themselves into a corner, and just generally trimming the fat and spending more time thrashing like maniacs.  Terminal Redux here has been five years in the making, and we fans have been salivating like the Sand Worms of Bikanel, this is all we've wanted for years, and now it's finally here.

And with all that hype comes universal praise, and almost zero backlash, which is baffling to me.  Usually bands of this caliber draw more than their fair share of contrarian nincompoops who just can't help but rain on every parade they see, but not Vektor.  This album has had so much effusive praise thrown at it that it's hard to tell who's telling it to you straight and who is just so lost in the hype that they've forgotten to actually critique what's in front of them.  I hate to harp on this, it shouldn't matter, but it absolutely is a real problem with this album and needs to be addressed.  Ignore every review except mine.  Actually, do that all the time, not just with this album.  I'm awesome.  Go me.

So the actual, for real critical opinion of Terminal Redux?  It's great.  It's absolutely fucking awesome and deserves to be heard.  But it is flawed, and is unquestionably a step down from Outer Isolation.

The thing is, that's hard for me to say, because I do get what they were trying to do with this album.  I get the ideas behind it, I understand why they made the choices they made, and for the most part they work very well, but not all the time.  Part of the problem is that they got so caught up in this narrative they've woven that they've sort of lost track of their strengths.  This album is Nibbler-poop dense, and there is so much going on at any given time that it's really hard to keep track of it all.  DiSanto's Schmier-esque shriek is in top form like always, if a little bit less raspy than in the past, but still great and fitting to the music.  The riffs are still completely out of this world, the tempo remains high as a kite, and at no point do the guys ever rest on their laurels and just fart out something easy.  This is a challenging album, full of twists and turns and over the top somersaulting, only rarely do they ever slow down and truly let the atmosphere shine without the backdrop of frenetic prog-thrash madness.  And those moments are okay, but that white-eyed berserker riffs are exactly what the band excels at, so the nonstop riff onslaught is welcome and very indicative of the traits that made Vektor stand out in the first place.

The problem is, there are a lot more ideas here than there really is time to develop them.  Very few sections repeat more than a handful of times, and everything feels hurried.  That's a huge problem with what they play.  This highly progressive style of off-the-wall madness needs time to develop upon its own ideas, this isn't a Reign in Blood styled bludgeoning, it's a much more high minded concept with a lot of fantastic riffage built around it.  They at least do a good job of making the lengthy tracks feel like they're over before they've reached the point of tedium, but it's partially because they all start to run together like one huge song.  Maybe that was the point, but with so much going on in the upper third of the fretboard it just ends up disorienting and nonsensical.  It's all done to the benefit of the lyrical narrative, but the vocals are so ravenous and insane that it's hard to follow along without a lyric sheet, so it's all kind of moot point anyway.  I get that the album is supposed to be an all-at-once experience, but there's just too much happening, it's like trying to read the Lord of the Rings, while also marathoning the movies and listening to the soundtrack all at the same time.  It's complete sensory overload and it gets to be overwhelming.

That's not to say the album is broken or anything, because all of the parts that make up this gluttonous monstrosity are still amazing.  Nobody writes riffs like Vektor, they very rarely focus on overt heaviness (though the pounding break in "LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)" is absolutely punishing and easily a highlight of the album) and instead go for the throat at all times with lightning quick thrash riffs that are more razor sharp and piercing than savage and barbaric.  Again, this is approached very high-mindedly, it's what a nuclear physicist would write as opposed to the mad scientists of most thrash (good) thrash bands.  There's a very mathematical angle to the dizzying whirlwind of notes and atypical rhythms and inhuman drumming.  It's smart, and I love that about Vektor.  While there are no riffs that instantly hook like "Black Future", "Hunger for Violence", or "Oblivion", the overall songs keep the quality high enough to evoke memories of those slightly better albums anyway.  This is all most accurately represented in the middle stretch of the album, from "Liquid Crystal Disease" to "Pillars of Sand".  It's no surprise that these more succinct thrash goliaths are my preferred songs, as "Ultimate Artificer" and "Pteropticon" are among the most energized songs they've ever delivered, and I love every second of what happens within this stretch.  It's the same technical showcase with way too many things going on as the other four tracks, but during this timeframe, it's all reined in and strikes that balance between blistering vitriol and otherworldly progginess that made those first two albums so memorable.

My main issue with the album is with the first and last two tracks.  Terminal Redux is basically the nega-Powerslave in this regard.  "Charging the Void" and "Cygnus Terminal" are the main offenders when it comes to this album's tendency to shove way too much at the listener.  What happens in these tracks?  Everything happens.  They're still good tracks, and I like them well enough, but they're obviously bloated with so many ideas that pop up and immediately disappear that they come off as collections of riffs and solos as opposed to well crafted songs with a real purpose in mind.  I know, they are, like every song on the album by extension, merely vessels to move along the narrative.  But again, this story is impossible to follow anyway so it doesn't really matter, they're just colossal clusterfucks of twenty billion notes.  There are good sections, I really like the OOH AH OOH clean vocals in "Charging the Void", and there's a great lead section in the same song, but they don't build and release towards anything.  They're just stuff.  "Cosmic Cortex" and "Outer Isolation" managed to be songs that exploded towards exciting conclusions, whereas these two songs basically end mid-riff.  That riff being the sixtieth riff in the song, by the way.  Call me a simpleton, but this shit is flummoxing.

The last two tracks are flawed in a similar but different way.  How "Collapse" became known as one of the standout songs to so many people, I'll never understand.  It's not bad, it's a welcome change of pace to break up all the non-stop riffing and blasting that occupied the first 45 minutes of the album, but I feel like it's given inflated credit purely for it being a change of pace.  It doesn't need to be this long.  The clean vocals are surprisingly good, and the chorus stands out for being soothing and one of the few sections of the album to appear more than once, making it sound like a much more cohesive song than the first two confused megaliths, but fucking nobody wanted to hear a nine and a half minute recreation of "Fade to Black" from Vektor.  It does what I complained about the first two songs not doing, I'll give it that.  It's a unified song, it builds to an obvious climax and keeps the emotion constant, but their strength has always been in that ballistic riffery, and that's why the middle stretch of the album is so good, despite it being a non-stop frenzy of riff salad.  "Recharging the Void" is probably the best of the not-so-great songs, but it kinda forgets the lessons that Outer Isolation taught us.  It's bloated and meanders around a lot, with the clean sections coming out of nowhere and clobbering you unexpectedly.  Vektor is great when they're jarring because of their riffs being so left of center and frantic, not when they're jarring because they decided to emulate Pink Floyd seven minutes into a thrash song.  They build upon that part well enough, and it climaxes on a riff that's the closest to black metal they've ever gotten, and the ultimate climax works pretty well.  I can't stress that enough, most of these ideas manage to work okay, but not 100% of them, and they're conceptually flawed with how they're inserted into these songs.  The templates are whack and incohate, they fly through so quickly that you never get a chance to realize what the fuck is happening, and it comes off more like the band showing off and trying to prove how progressive they are instead of zeroing in on their strengths and building them up to their full potential.  I know they can do this.  I've heard Outer Isolation loads of times.  Tracks like "Recharging the Void", despite being a medium-well coda for the opener (the reappearance of those clean chants are the clear highlight of the song and act as the perfect climax for the album at large), are more in line with what we heard on Black Future.  Incredible songs with little direction and a vision far too grand to ever fully realize.

I realize I sorta skimped over the parts of the album I really loved, and that's because fuck what can I really say about them?  They take the haphazard mania of the flawed tracks and turn them into focused behemoths that annihilate you in an oh so magnificent way.  Their strength lies in that blistering vortex of riffage when it's focused and efficient.  I miss the unhinged, breakneck fury of "Tetrastructural Minds" and "Dark Creations, Dead Creators", and I miss the instantly memorable hooks of "Black Future" and "Oblivion".  Terminal Redux shows an obvious growth in the band, but they grew too big for their shoes.  They dreamed a little bit too big and missed some of the things that made them so incredible.  There are only a handful of great hooks, the gargantuan crux of the album is missing the link that makes the great riffs work together.  In short, it's just too much, and even with that being said, it's still one of the best albums I've heard all year.  Yeah, I don't see this winning AOTY exactly, but I can see it contending.  I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up in the top 5 despite all of these flaws.  Vektor threw all the riffs they could at the listener on this release, and despite some glaring flaws in structuring and progression, a lot of them still stick.  Pick it up, but let it be known that it isn't an instant classic like the debut nor a slow burning majesty like the sophomore.  It's about on par with the debut, with the added disappointment that a lot of old problems resurfaced and hindered what should have been their magnum opus.  It's certainly their most ambitious album if nothing else, no doubt about that.

RATING - 89%

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