Vital Remains - _Icons of Evil_
(Century Media, 2007)
by: Jackie Smit (
Is it just me, or did it strike anyone else as slightly odd that Glen Benton would elect not to show up for Deicide's last European tour right around the time that the band to which he very nearly defected on a permanent basis not so long ago were putting the finishing touches on their latest opus? Don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to imply that our Glen was in any way to blame for the myriad show cancellations that Deicide have notched up over the years. What I am saying is that if this were indeed the case, then maybe -- just maybe -- one could understand where the big man was coming from. After all, with the exception of the forthcoming Nile record, I can't think of another death metal release this year that is so heavily weighted down in expectation. This in turn could possibly also explain why the band have chosen to play it safe this time around. Very safe indeed, as it turns out.Like _Dechristianize_, _Icons of Evil_ starts us off with a remarkably superfluous intro. Once that's out of the way and the album gets off to a proper start, Vital Remains are out of the gate like a pride of starving lions in the Circus Maximus. At first, the opening title track is a chain-gun blast of viciousness. Three minutes in however, and brutality swiftly gives way to epic melody and soaring guitar solos. Sound familiar? While it is true that death metal -- perhaps more than any other extreme subgenre -- has made a habit of looking to the past when mapping its future, here Vital Remains stick to The Formula with obsessive devotion.Before we get ahead of ourselves however, let me make one thing crystal clear: for the most part at least, _Icons of Evil_ is one heck of a death metal album; a masterclass in the art of melding sweeping, traditional grandiosity with aggression that's almost constantly teetering on the brink of full-blown delirium. Between the frankly scary technical prowess of Suzuki and Lazaro, Benton's peerless snarl and a production job that Eric Rutan has every right to be beaming over, songs like "Hammer Down the Nails" and "Born to Rape the World" are nothing short of stunning.The trouble is that, in addition to their reluctance to step out of their creative comfort zone, Vital Remains' hard-on for speed renders large chunks of particularly the record's latter half faceless; the music going by in a whirl of ceaseless and inevitably pointless blasting. At no point is there any track that comes even close to being as memorable as "Entwined by Vengeance" or "Devoured Elysium".Make no mistake: if you're a death metal fan, there's no reason under the sun why you shouldn't own _Icons of Evil_. But if I had to place bets on the record that Vital Remains will be remembered for decades from now, my money is still very firmly on _Dechristianize_.
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