Icons Of Evil (2006)
U.S, Century Media Records, Satanic Technical Death Metal.
Oh wait, wrong fairy tale. Honest mistake. Then again after listening to this album, a bit of superstitious dyslexia is to be expected. That, and a serious craving for Death Metal that isn’t cartoonish and exhausting. I’m not entirely certain if it’s satanic policy to be this goofy, but every possible cliche is on display here. An anguished Jesus on the cover? Check. An orc nailing him onto the cross with a hammer that says ‘666’? Check. Having the album clock in at 66:06? Check. Hijacking what used to be a fantastic outfit and turning it into the exact same thing Deicide’s been doing since 1990? Check fucking mate.
As is quite clear by now, I’m not a fan of this release. Like many metalheads, I was introduced to Vital Remains when Glen Benton came aboard and put out ‘Dechristianize’, which is a solid release, but nothing more. What I’ve only discovered quite recently is Vital Remains *before* Benton, going all the way back to their debut ‘Let Us Pray’. As crazy as it may sound, Vital Remains wasn’t always the official knock off of Deicide. ‘Let Us Pray’, ‘Into Cold Darkness’ and ‘Forever Underground’ are all classics in their own right that display three things lacking from Benton’s Remains; subtlety, atmosphere and a genuine feeling of evil. The lengthy songs and satanism were still present, but were inseparable from the band’s understanding of musicianship and raw feeling. All three of those albums personified a different trait of the music perfectly, be it the sheer terror on ‘Into Cold Darkness’, the fury on ‘Forever Underground’ or the hellishness of ‘Let Us Pray’. Vital Remains was nigh untouchable as an unknown act. Of course, like all of the fiction involving Beezelbub, the worst trickery was yet to reveal itself.
Enter Glen Benton, evangelical devil worshipper, frontman of Deicide and all around douchebag. When ‘Dawn Of The Apocalypse’ failed to live up to Vital Remains’ first three masterworks, Benton got involved with the band to put out what many consider their best album, the aforementioned ‘Dechristianize’. While certainly not a bad album, Benton and crew completely disregarded what old Vital Remains did to make nine minute songs worth every second in favor of gratuitous filler. Take ‘I Am God’ off of ‘Forever Underground’ and compare it to ‘At War With God’ off of ‘Dechristianize’. The immediate difference is one of engagement. ‘I Am God’ doesn’t need to flaunt that it’s vengeful and filled with hate because it shows us instead of tells us. It’s also a slower paced song with about a minute more than ‘At War With God’ but not once does it lag. Right off the bat, ‘At War With God’ has not only pilfered the worst bits of Deicide, but the opening riff is almost the exact same as one of the best riffs in ‘I Am God’. It’s a competent track marred by the idiotic decision to constantly remind the listener ‘This is hardcore anti-god, anti-christ material man.’ Even as a fantasy character, Satan wouldn’t be caught dead being so unsubtle.
I’m sure by now many of you are wondering why exactly I dislike ‘Icons Of Evil’ so much. The reason is quite simple; it has all of the insufferable mugging that ‘Dechristianize’ was hampered by and nothing else. There isn’t an ounce of seriousness, atmosphere or variation here. The fundamental misunderstanding of how to write long songs has progressed to the point of making 98% of every single track the couch stuffing of hell’s sofa. It’s baffling to think that Tony Lazaro and Dave Suzuki were part of the classic Vital Remains given what fluff is presented here. Sure, the instruments are played proficiently and all, (the only reason this doesn’t get a zero) but there’s no sense of anything meaningful, anything that can actually be called a Vital Remains song. It’s made all the worse by Benton’s vocals; I don’t know if half-assing is his trademark, but competency isn’t even reached. Oh wow, it’s the same medium pitched growl inevitably followed by a sub Black Metal shriek. One more hour of that please!
Speaking of tedium, the filler I mentioned is the exact same as every other part of the song. No, really; songs that could have been easily reduced to three or four minutes (it’s not like this outing respects anything that made Vital Remains what it was anyways) decide to play certain portions over and over again on a loop. I have to wonder if these songs are nothing more than the remnants of a failed concept album since every track blends together so much it becomes one mushy, nerve wracking whole. Forget ‘sounding the same’, everything on this album IS the same. The real name of this album isn’t ‘Icons Of Evil’ it’s ‘Hi, I’m Glen Benton And For The Next Hour I’m Going To Ear Rape You With My Best Buddy Satan’.
Nothing here feels right. Instead of being technical and captivating like no other, the guitar, bass and drums feel tired and played out. Instead of evoking dread or anger the vocals are cynic fuel. Indeed, this whole outing reeks of cynicism. There’s no passion here, only the mindless pantomiming of musicians that have long since abandoned their devotion to what made their band great coupled with a frontman that is inadequate to lead the band in too many ways to count. Religion is incredibly simple to lampoon or intellectually demolish. It’s the logical equivalent of taking candy from a blind, deaf and dumb toddler. The classic Vital Remains used Satan in an effective and genuinely powerful way to advance a terrific anti-religious sentiment. Benton’s Satanism is the same sort of dog and pony show that Pat Robertson specializes in, which makes it pathetic. Satan is a fascinating character and the perfect contrast to the authoritarian cloud dweller many people make God out to be, but he isn’t real. I don’t ‘disbelieve’ in God or Satan because it’s the equivalent of ‘disbelieving’ in leprechauns or sentient tea cups. There are no such things outside of fiction and the recorded hallucinations of primitive people.
In the end, I hope whatever comes next for Vital Remains is a step up, but given how Cryptopsy and Morbid Angel have fared, I’m not too optimistic. At any rate, hail Santa, Connor Macleod and The Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions. (Still Unnamed) Just remember they’re never worth killing over, regardless of whether you’re slaughtering an innocent human being or a classic metal band.