VITAL REMAINS
"Icons of Evil"

(Century Media)

01. Where Is Your God Now
02. Icons of Evil
03. Scorned
04. Born To Rape the World
05. Reborn… The Upheaval of Nihility
06. Hammer Down the Nails
07. Shrapnel Embedded Flesh
08. Till Death
09. In Infamy
10. Disciples of Hell

RATING: 7.5/10

One of the more divisive death metal albums of 2007, the new VITAL REMAINS manages a rather neat trick by being everything its most ardent supporters say it is — and suffering from every flaw its detractors claim. It's a big, turgid, exhausting, overstuffed Thanksgiving turkey of an album, a ludicrous display of virtuoso excess and faux brutality — but you know what, it's a damn good record, too, and wallowing in its overindulgence is no crime.

If you've heard any recent VITAL REMAINS, you know the band's basic shtick — DEICIDE frontman Glen Benton provides loud but nondescript vocals, while Tony Lazaro and Dave Suzuki dish out 7-9 minute servings of overwhelming blast beats, speedy riffing, and numerous doomy midsections with elaborate neoclassical soloing and epic grandeur. The first time you hear it, you're completely astonished that anyone could have raised the bar so high for death metal… unfortunately, if you're a fan, this is far from the first time you've heard it. As ambitious and complex as each song in the band's recent canon may be, it's all basically the same bag of tricks, over and over.

But really, who cares? It's not like there are that many other death metal bands out there reinventing themselves with each release (and those that do are usually labeled sellout whores by the same people bitching about VITAL REMAINS staying the same). When "Reborn… The Upheaval of Nihility" rips through my speakers, I'm not sitting there with a stopwatch and a clipboard, tut-tutting about the band's formulaic approach, I'm too busy having my head ripped off. And if you can throw classy acoustic solos and expressive fiery leads into the middle of the song, why not do it? The band may tread familiar ground here, but it's hard to say they're in a rut when they still make their music sound this fresh and intense. They mean it, man, hokey Satan crap and all, and it's that indefinable injection of heart that makes even retread VITAL REMAINS such a damn kick to listen to.

There's not much else to say about VITAL REMAINS except that "Icons of Evil" is, if possible, even more… well… VITAL REMAINS-y than they've ever been before. They've taken the sound they've developed over the last several records and managed to find still more room to push the envelope with it – faster, heavier, more ornate. The fact that it's totally rote and utterly without surprise may piss you off, but the fact is that this is still a winning formula and I, for one, ain't quite sick of it just yet. P.S. "Disciples of Hell" is an impressive YNGWIE MALMSTEEN cover!

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