Via Vengeance - Harsh ConditionsThere are one-man bands and there are one-man bands. Via Vengeance is the latter. Shane Ocell is not only the sole-instrumentalist of this Arizona-based doom band, but also performs guitar, drums, and vocals simultaneously. Yep, you heard me. The Via Vengeance live experience consists of Ocell sitting behind a kit, chugging away on a guitar, and belting out vicious incantations through his monitors. For this reason, Ocell’s songwriting is simplistic, proving that doom can be done well without over-the-top epicness. Not one to keep the live-experience from the fans, Ocell plays in the studio as he does in the local dive bar; with all instruments in-hand and underfoot, and a physically-abused mic at his disposal. Being preoccupied with his drum duties for Phoenix-based Sarxe, Ocell has not released a Via Vengeance record in nearly a decade. While 2007’s Dieography was a beautiful mix of stripped-down drone and crushing doom, the wait for Harsh Conditions has been well worth it.

For those keeping score, you’ve probably noticed my references to “Arizona” and “Phoenix,” yet your eyes are automatically drawn to (and your brain confused by) the album cover above. While a snow-covered album may seem oxymoronic to anyone that has ever stepped foot in the seething shithole that is Phoenix, Ocell actually hails from the mountainous, frozen north (Colorado to us Arizonans). So, I suppose, he knows a little something about tough winters. Harsh Conditions is not only “harsh” in delivery, but its image symbolizes the depressing conditions of life. Winter is bleak and one-dimensional, and its cold, dark nature leaves many people feeling lonely and depressed with its simplistic presence. Harsh Conditions is the auditory medium for those emotions; conveying the bleakness of life on an hour-long, eleven-track disc.

“Efficient Kill” is a raw, straightforward opener that hints to the listener the type of journey we are about to embark on. Ocell’s vocals are meaner than the desperate, hardcore-ish vox found on Dieography, and the tough-as-nails recording of Harsh Conditions makes the debut feel almost happy-go-lucky. The raw production mixed with beautiful clean guitars and female vox works best in tracks like “Swarmed,” “Lust Blood,” and “Solitary.” Each of these songs has intensely aggressive choruses, midsection builds that strengthen the songs (and album), and an overall atmosphere that bleeds anger, depression, and loneliness into the listener’s heart. Each of these little journeys transition from a main riff into slow buildup created by the chugging guitars and accelerating pedal rapping. The builds finally break into powerful climaxes and the songs effectively conclude.

Via Vengeance 2016

Along with the powerful tracks mentioned above, the album is rounded out beautifully by the inclusion of three instrumentals: “Winter Mourning,” “Harsh Conditions,” and “In the End Nothing Goes to Waste.” The first delivers some eerie keys and haunting female vocals (both courtesy of Ocell’s grandmother), while the latter two utilize piano and keys to intermit and close the album, respectively. With this stripped-down songwriting approach, these breaks in the album keep Harsh Conditions from feeling overly repetitive or droney.

Harsh Conditions requires a few listens to absorb the music and the message, but the flow from track-to-track works quite well. Unfortunately, the album takes awhile to get rolling (fault falling to “Efficient Kill” and “Expired”). And the powerful builds in “Dead in the Snow” and “Solitary” leave me wanting a little more at their climax (something the very Triptykon-like “Instinct to Survive” nails perfectly). The dynamics may not impress, but the mastering decision was clearly intentional and, actually, quite effective. With a recording representative of the Ocell’s live performance, the album is obviously geared to emotional listeners and not audiophiles. As the icing to the cake, the artwork by “Dead in the Snow” guest guitarist/vocalist Josh Graham (A Storm of Light, ex-Neurosis) uses visual imagery to strengthen the album’s auditory one. Harsh Conditions is a simple, stripped down journey that reminds you that winter is far from over. 


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Battleground 

Share →
  • Putting an owl on the cover increases the likelihood of me getting the album by 63.5%

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      He seems to like them owls.

      • I guess Strigiformesophilia would be an apt latin phrase for ornithophilia for owls, but than again, wtf do I know.

        • Kronos

          Strygiophilia; the – iformes suffix denotes an avian order and is of taxonomic importance but does not add meaning needed for this sort of construction.

          • Someone knows their Latin I see. I often find language fascinating, but the only thing I like about Latin is that it sounds ancient, and the sense of old and primitive often works well in a metal context.
            Other than that, Latin is useful for two things; classification of species, sexual deviations and so forth, or talking to the pope.
            My second language is English. I find that a bit more useful ;)

          • Kronos

            I actually don’t know latin; I just know taxonomy.

          • Taxonomy sounds interesting, albeit it’s probably very meticulous work at times, with subtle nuances separating various specimens. Almost like bands and albums in [input almost any genre with abundance of generic bands].

          • Kronos

            I like to think of it as interesting, though many people, I think justifiably, think it’s about the most boring thing on the face of the planet. It’s the perfect field for pedantry, as it involves constant rearrangement of categories and names.

          • I did like to re-categorize my coin-collection as a kid, and I have gone through several different arrangements of my CD collection, but I don’t know if I’d have the patience needed or such an occupation. One day you’ll snapp. “For fuck sake, it’s a coleoptera, they’re all just frikin coleopterous!”

    • Diego Molero

      Really? This one looks terrible to me

    • Norfair Legend

      Agreed 100%

    • Tom Hardy

      You’re that easy to please ‘bruh’? Legend of the Guardians must have be one hard, arousing movie to watch.

      • Legends of the who?

        • Tom Hardy

          I take it you can’t use a Google search engine huh. No problem mate, here ya go.

          • Kalsten

            They report that the Blu-Ray edition of Legend of the Guardians have increased significantly after SMOHLG learnt about the movie.

          • Bart the Repairman

            It’s a rare thing – animation where animals actually look like animals.

          • I was hoping you’d catch my terrific pun. Our internet friendship is not starting out as I had hoped.

          • Tom Hardy

            Worry not my friend, I hold you in decent regard since I too am a fan of Gin.

    • Blueberry Balls

      Owls are serious business indeed.

  • Brother Ben

    Dude…. why you gotta hate on Phoenix?

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      I’m very sorry, but Phoenix and I just don’t get along.

  • Diego Molero

    Of course winter is not over, in fact, winter is coming…

  • Dr. Scorpion

    Hedwig!!!!

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Just when I think everything that can be done has been done already… Hasil Adkins goes doom! Of course that means the chickens get replaced by owls.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      This is gold. And yes. Yes to all of this.

  • Tom Hardy

    Lets take 5 or 6 Crowbar riffs, break them down into songs that last 41 mins slowing em down a bit shall we?

    No thank you.

    • Pimpolho

      Crowbar is dope though.

      • Tom Hardy

        Yeah mate, pour me some whiskey in some Broken Glass and you and I can hang every evening.

  • Norfair Legend

    Ordered!

  • Blueberry Balls

    Owls + unicorns = Win.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      This is getting out of control…

      • Blueberry Balls

        indeed! ;)

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          I look pretty damn good with a horn coming out of my head.

      • Blueberry Balls

        This album is really damn good, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention!

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Glad you’re enjoying it. It has made a lasting impression on me. Then seeing him perform live the other day further solidified that.

    • Tom Hardy

      I should get you introduced to the marketing guys of my new show called Taboo so you could perform some of your Photoshop wizardry on our posters.

    • This guy gets it

  • Innit Bartender

    It’s a great cover although the photoshop work is quite evident… Anyway, best owl cover after Rush’s Fly by Night!

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Despite the winter theme, I’m getting a kind of deep, dark Delta Blues vibe from this. Love the fuzzy guitar tone. It’d be cool to see him live to watch how he pulls this off.

    • Dr. A.N. Grier

      Yeah, it’s got that sludgy feel to it. I just saw him perform recently. It’s quite the thing to see.