Friday, January 9, 2009

Vital Remains- Dechristianize

This is a blog based on the assumption that one should pay attention to music. Meaning, really sit down with and listen to your records. In a world of mp3 blogs, itunes, youtube, etc., every music-listening convenience is a deterrent from prolonged, album-length attention spans. On the other hand, never has there been such a wealth of information available: discographies, reviews, message boards, online gossip, etc. The result is that one can be very well-versed and opinionated about music, without really having put any time into the activity of listening. And, even worse, one can "like" a great deal of art without really knowing why (or "what-it-is" about this particular thing).

The blog is about metal, but it as easily could have been about rap, jazz, hardcore, reggae, or classical music. The single thesis of this author, on the topic of listening to music, is: a "good" record is one that rewards many listens. This is not a controversial thesis on first appearance, but how many times has a record been defended on OTHER grounds than this? Conversely, a bad record is one that you don't find yourself reaching for very often. I'm not into genre-exercises.

Metal asks for close listening, and this writer intends to ignore any hype or canonical status or sub-sub-genre favoritism, and just say whether a record holds up or not.

Vital Remains has a weird lineup: the drummer also plays all the lead guitar parts. I wouldn't want to be the other guy, trying to explain to my friends what exactly it is I do in this metal band. Can you imagine being the guitarist in a two-man band and *still* not being the "lead" guitarist? Also, on this record, Glenn Benton from Deicide stepped in to provide vocals.

The three things to take away from this album: 1) the new sensation that maybe Glenn from Deicide should not be a punchline any more (after famously proclaiming he would commit suicide, and then living to ruin Deicide); 2) the drumming is outrageously fast and "clicky"--even by death metal expectations! 3) all the blasting death metal parts seem to exist only to provide a framework for some beautiful, flowery guitar passages (but no solos).

The first song, after the obligatory garbage spooky intro, is the title track, which puts all the album's strengths on the table: ridiculously fast drumming, ornate and memorable "pretty" guitar work, and some vicious slow mosh parts. The band basically juggles these elements for six to ten minutes on all their songs, occasionally (as in the title track) combining the swooning technical lead guitar with slower "breakdown" rhythms. This often feels like the goal of their songs, and the basic death metal stuff can seem like just a means for getting there. But just as often, the reverse is true: the incredibly brutal, unornamented death metal is very appealing, and stopping for sigh... another woozy lead break can seem a distraction. Especially since there are very few ripping solos (one is to be found in "Infidel")--and so these stand-out parts can start to sound very similar.

At an hour of music, with only three or so tricks in the bag, Dechristianize is far too long. Neither the songs nor the album build to anything--at best, it is a collection of "neat parts." But, it's always catchy, and sometimes it is very very catchy. It's neither a "grower" nor is it dumbed down.

Score: 3 Stars/5 (***)
Best songs: "Dechristianize," "Rush of Deliverance," "Devoured Elysium"

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