Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Victorius - Dinosaur Warfare - Legend of the Power Saurus


When I was seven years old, a friend and I decided that we wanted to make comic books.  The combined brainpower of two elementary school boys fueled by Mountain Dew and raised on Sega and Saturday morning cartoons came up with the idea of a crack squad of cybernetic dinosaur mercenaries, a creative midpoint between X-Men and Dinosaurs for Hire.  Neither of us could draw, we didn't have any colored pencils so it was just pencil outlines of squiggly vaguely dinosaur-with-machine-gun shaped blobs fighting each other.  We christened our creation "DINOSAUR EXPLOSIONS".  We made maybe two "issues" of this storyline before our sugar rush wore off and we fucked off back to playing Clay Fighter or Road Rash or whatever the hell it is that seven year olds do, but our foray into comic books always stuck with me.

If you need context why I love Victorius's new EP so god damned much, Dinosaur Warfare - Legend of the Power Saurus, it's entirely because I thought of this idea already twenty years ago and nothing thrills me more than seeing it come to life.

Victorius has been kicking around for neary fifteen years now, releasing four full lengths that have languished in moderate obscurity (though not totally unknown, they all have a handful of reviews on MA with good scores), but nothing about them has ever really been superlative.  They're a solid second-tier power metal band from a region that is overflowing with solid-yet-forgettable power metal, there's never really been a reason to seek them out prior to this release.  They needed to do something to finally stand out, and by golly did they do that.  Not only did they land on the idea of the most outwardly absurd concept album in recent memory (an epic sci-fi struggle between cybernetic dinosaurs fighting against hostile alien invaders), but they also managed to finally accompany this brazenly dorky idea with the best music they've written to date.  Seriously, the chorus of "Legend of the Power Saurus" is like the part in the painting when God's finger touches Adam's.

The EP starts off decently enough with the semi-title track, "Dinosaur Warfare", sonically landing somewhere between the raw energy of Gamma Ray and the over-the-top silliness of Sonic Firestorm era Dragonforce (with notably less explosive guitar theatrics, of course).  It's a good, fun track that sits fairly well in line with what I remember of their previous work.  Solid power metal but nothing particularly superlative.  It isn't until the next track that the record reveals its true genius.  The three track stretch of "Legend of the Power Saurus", "Lazer Tooth Tiger", and "Razorblade Raptor" are three of the most ludicrously fun power metal songs in the last handful of years.  Something here just clicked with the guys, because all three are rabidly infectious tunes that mix massive, soaring melodies with some serious rough-and-tumble ferocity in the rhythm section.  The opening riff of "Lazer Tooth Tiger" is so fucking vicious that I can barely describe it, and it blends so well with the comparatively light chorus that just flies over the metaphorical battlefield with style and grace.  You'd be amazed, but there's an astounding amount of class and dead-eyed seriousness with the care given to these songs.  Despite the childish lunacy of the deep voiced pre-solo call to battle of "IT'S MORPHIN' TIME!" in "Legend of the Power Saurus" and the sheer ridiculousness of a song about a character named motherfucking Razorblade Raptor, there's no indication that the band took the task of writing these tracks as a joke.  Lyrical absurdity aside, these tracks all sound like lost Gamma Ray recordings that  hypothetically existed somewhere between Power Plant and No World Order!, and any power metal fan worth their salt should know how much ass Gamma Ray kicked during that time period.  It's meat and potatoes power metal devoid of flittery synths and booming orchestral patches.  It's built entirely on riffs and vocals and that's all it needs to be.  It's so fucking silly to say out loud, but a chorus that ends with a triumphant, booming tenor shouting "MIGHTY LEEEEGEEEEND OOOOF THEEE DIIIIIINOSAaAaAUuUuUR" is actually the benchmark for great choruses this year.  This is the mark that all power metal bands need to push themselves to surpass in 2018.  It would literally be amazing if I was kidding.

However, there is a bit of a mammoth in the room, that being the closing track, "Flames of Armageddon".  It's more on par with the opening track in terms of quality, but for some reason it's a thematic break from the rest of the album, being instead about some generic apocalypse story invoking traditional ideas of saints and sinners.  Man I hate to be that neckbearded fuck to say this, but come on man give us more dinosaur shit!  How can you give us such a brilliantly stupid premise and then neglect to give it any closure?!  I feel like I just got the rug pulled out from under me, we were robbed of more goofy awesomeness.  Where's my track about Terrordactyl?  Triflareatops?  Assault Archeopteryx??  If nothing else, "Flames of Armageddon" does at least uncover an uncomfortable truth about Dinosaur Warfare, that being that the lyrical absurdity may truly be the thing that makes it as awe inspiring as it is.  I don't want to admit it, I don't want to stan for a dumbass gimmick but I feel like it can't be solely coincidence that the only track that breaks from the gimmick is a disappointing track, despite it being musically every bit as good as the preceding ones.

But then again, maybe it's a good thing that we really only got four songs about this concept.  If Kung Fury has taught me anything, it's that reaching for the most intentionally absurd gags really runs out of steam quickly, as that movie stopped being funny less than halfway through and it's only a half hour long.  So I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, Dinosaur Warfare is one of the most fun, tight, and well crafted collection of riffy power metal songs with stellar choruses assembled in the last while.  It's so bizarre to say, but it's totally true.  Perhaps it's because of the brazenly stupid gimmick, perhaps it's in spite of it, but regardless of the reason, this is one of the best power metal EPs you're going to hear in 2018, and that's not a joke.  DINOSAUR EXPLOSIONS lives on forever.

We are soldiers of the buuuurning sun!
With fire in our song!
Mighty leeegeeend oooof the diiiiinosaaaauuuur!


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Nile - What Should Not Be Unearthed

It's a Nile album, and that's okay

Nile's career trajectory is fairly well known at this point, but I think it's worth noting that their decline after the thundering megalith that is Annihilation of the Wicked has been oddly enjoyable.  They're in a strangely enticing funk as of now, not unlike the smelled of burned bacon.  It's not what you wanted, and it's definitely inferior to how good it could have been, but it's still fine if you have a certain taste for it (or an affinity for bad cooking).  Ithyphallic and Those Whom the Gods Detest are kinda controversial in their standing with the general fandom, with most people agreeing that there's really nothing wrong with them on the surface, but there's just... something missing.  Some undefined intangible that made the previous records so great that just isn't quite present here.  The only true misstep so far as been At the Gates of Sethu, which cleaned up their awesome unique wall of sound and amped up the technicality to previously unseen levels.  As a result, a lot of that steel-fisted ferocity was lost, and their penchant for badass hooks went out the window.

And that's where What Should Not Be Unearthed comes in, because this is about as good of a mea culpa we could have possibly asked for.  It's clear they're never going to go back to their darkened shrines any time soon, so seeing them return to their detesting gods is wholly welcome for me.  This album's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, that being that it's basically a return to the sound from two albums ago.  On one hand, this means we're getting exceptionally solid hyperdeath again, rife with the same Egyptian scales Karl is so in love with, Dallas handling the lion's share of vocals still, and George still hasn't learned how to play a beat slower than 40000bpm.  On the other hand, the band isn't challenging themselves in any way and are just resting on their laurels, releasing a safe album that sounds identical to previous albums that were already proven to be successful.

For all of Sethu's faults, I could at least appreciate that the band was trying to evolve.  That's not the case on Unearthed (pardon the truncating of the album titles, you can understand how annoying it is that they keep naming shit full sentences), where Nile instead just safely goes back into their comfort zone and make no effort to advance further.  Maybe this has ultimately been the bugaboo holding the last few albums back, and Sethu just finally made it obvious.  They've been chasing the mighty shadow of Annihilation for over a decade now, and when they tried to do anything else, it turned out they weren't all that good at it.  Rehashing Annihilation is what they do best.

And frankly?  I'm okay with that.  Really, Unearthed may not be pushing any boundaries but it's a showcase of a band playing to their strengths.  Basically every song here powers forwards at extremely high tempos, backed by relentless blasting and meaty tremolo riffs, highlighted with that sexy Middle Eastern flavor and gale-force bellows from Dallas and deep gurgles from Karl.  That's exactly what they're good at, so it's nice to hear them quit fucking with the noodly technicality and jump headfirst back into explosive riffage again.  Nile has always basically just been regular old death metal played three times faster than necessary with a unique sense of melody at their core, and tracks like "Liber Stellae Rubeae", "Rape of the Black Earth", and the massive "Call to Destruction" showcase that with aplomb.  There's the token traditional interlude with "Ushabti Reanimator" and some slow crushing sections like the back half of the title track as well.  It's nothing you haven't heard before but it's just as good as it's always been.  The only thing it's really missing is a super long song, being the first album not to see a track break the seven minute mark since the debut (though the title track falls only a second or two short).  It's a Nile album.  That's really all the explanation it needs.

So ultimately, Unearthed is both disappointing and satisfying.  It's disappointing that it's regressive fanservice dressed up as a heralded return to their roots, but it's satisfying because they're still really god damned good at that sound.  Clearly, the satisfaction outweighs the disappointment.  Personally, I thought Detest was a great album, and Unearthed is pretty much exactly on par with that one.  So however you felt about them two albums ago is exactly how you'll feel about this one.  Sure, they still haven't written anything as pulse-pounding and exciting as "Lashed to the Slave Stick" or as epic as "Unas, Slayer of the Gods" in a long time, but they can keep giving me replacements like "Papyrus Containing the Spell..." and "4th Arra of Dagon" as long as they like if they're going to stay at this level of quality.