We are three years shy of entering a new decade, and yet we can’t seem to leave the 80s behind. Yes, it was a magical decade, indeed. Iron Maiden was absolutely unfuckwithable, releasing flawless album after flawless album. It was a decade that saw the birth of thrash, death, and black metal. Yet, for all the magic that decade created, bands can’t seem to move forward. Rather, the incessant mining of bygone sounds continues unabated to this day, often with meager returns. For their second full-length, With Primeval Force, Sweden’s Vampire rattles off the usual suspects when it comes to their throwback sound, citing Bathory, Mercyful Fate, and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, you can’t help but… wait, fucking Castlevania?! And a criminally underrated game in that series to boot? Really?
Yes, really! Within seconds of opener “Knights of the Burning Crypt,” you can’t help but imagine an 8-bit Simon Belmont shuffling to the right and whipping skeletons and werewolves while lamenting about what a horrible night it is to have a curse. Guitarists Black String and Sepulchral Condor’s riffing and melodies capture the aesthetic of Castlevania flawlessly, all while retaining the spirit of the 80s thrash and death metal sound. Vocalist Hand of Doom maintains an old-school rasp, adding a bit of a Possessed vibe to the music, while musically it balances between classic Slayer, a touch of Mercyful Fate, and sprinkles of NWOBHM melodies and motifs. Not a bad start to get your listening adventure on its merry way, indeed.
With Primeval Force doesn’t let up in the intensity one bit in its 38-minutes of retro metal. “Metamorfosis” opens with a “Bark at the Moon”-esque riff before pummeling forth with some incredible drum fills by Abysmal Condor. Standout “Midnight Trail” skirts effortlessly between very early Iron Maiden atmospherics and a rapid-fire Slayer vocal delivery. The atmospheric “Initiation Rite” builds to such an energetic, rumbling end that you can’t help but windmill. That’s the ticket to how good this album is, for as old-school this all sounds, there’s an intangible energy that ripples throughout With Primeval Force. Instead of sounding old-school for the sake of sounding old-school, Vampire took their influences, and injected a fuck-ton of energy and sharp songwriting skills into them, crafting a tight set of nine songs that will get you hunting for hearts inside of candles in no time.
Yet, not all is an astounding victory. While there isn’t a single bad song on With Primeval Force, repetition does rear its ugly head every now and then, giving the album a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe, but not to such a degree where it kills it deader than a stake through the heart. Another bone of contention lies in the Nacksving Studios (Dark Tranquility, Opeth) production. Despite the lack of dynamics, it does sound warm, but Command’s bass playing does sound flat and punchless. It’s heard, but not exactly felt. But I will take this over yet another round of retro-doom any day. The heart and soul of the 80s was captured gloriously, yet still sounds somewhat modern. That’s not easy to accomplish.
I admit I went into With Primeval Force with the same enthusiasm as Simon does, jumping on clock gears while avoiding flying medusa heads in a clock tower. By the end of the album, I was overcome with the same amount of joy one receives when they unearth a fully-cooked, practically flawless turkey dinner by whipping their staircase. Vampire struck Gothic gold here, and I can’t wait to give it another listen. This is retro done right. Simon Belmont would be proud.