Originally Steel Druhm was going to write this review, but I used my Inception-like powers to convince him I should handle it. I’ve spent the days since, chewing on my nails, wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into – no pressure at all! What to write? Well, “write what you know” is how the old saying goes, and here’s what I know: Vicious Rumors crept out of the Bay Area thrash scene among the many other bands at the time (Metallica, Exodus, Death Angel), but failed to see their careers go through the stratosphere like the aforementioned Metallica (although Vicious Rumors attained a fair amount of popularity in Europe). Back in the 80s Vicious Rumors were mostly known as the launch pad for Vinnie Moore’s career, as he was with the band for their debut. Thirty-one years after Soldiers of the Night, are they still legit?
Like a lot of 80s metal acts, Vicious Rumors have carved a steady if not lucrative career out of festivals, and seem to be getting stronger with age. 2011’s Razorback Killers garnered an impressive 4.0 rating by Steel, and 2013’s Electric Punishment was equally strong. On Concussion Protocol the power/thrash vets picked up right where they left off, with one main difference: yet another new singer. Vicious Rumors go through vocalists like Spinal Tap go through drummers: Dutchman Nick Holleman is the band’s 10th, and though Holleman joined back in 2013, this is his first shot at recorded glory with the band. Concussion Protocol thunders out of the gates with the title track: the towering, anthemic intro features crashing toms and a wailing lead break before dropping into a trademark Vicious Rumors riff, and in comes Holleman, sneering the lines at us atop double-kick drumming. A promising start.
The band doesn’t let up on subsequent tracks, either; “Chemical Slaves” has a fast groove that’s quite similar to Metal Church’s “Killing Your Time” (another solid 2016 release from some seasoned vets), “Chasing the Priest” is a great Teutonic-tinged dose of thrash, and “Take it or Leave it” is a gem of a bass-led anthem with an odd time change at the half-way point. Vicious Rumors can’t keep it going for all eleven tracks, though. While “Last of Our Kind” has a great chorus that sounds like it was lifted from an old Accept record, the song’s melodic structure just doesn’t sit right and the bridge could have come from something off Judas Priest’s Turbo. And why do bands insist on slowing things down on one token track? Here that track is “Circle of Secrets” and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Not to mention the lyrics, which can be patently silly – “Victims of a digital world, lost without connection” goes the chorus on “Victims of a Digital World,” while I listen to it on my iPhone…
These missteps are minor compared to the overall impact of Concussion Protocol. The recent injections of European talent (in addition to Holleman, bassist Tilen Hudrap hails from Slovenia) show themselves throughout, from the rhythm-heavy production to the gang choruses. Hudrap intersperses some sharp licks across many of the songs. The guitar work is top notch, with founder Geoff Thorpe and fellow axeman Thaen Rasmussen consistently nailing riffs, solos, and harmonies with aplomb. The star of the show, however, has to be Holleman. The man’s vocal range and style are eye-opening, as he can move from growls to sneers to wails in the blink of an eye, eliciting comparisons ranging from Helloween’s Kai Hansen to Rob Halford. Holleman brings an extra degree of quality to Concussion Protocol, turning already solid songs into standout tracks – “Take it or Leave it” is the best example of this.
I told myself after the first listen that Concussion Protocol was a good album, but wasn’t going to match the 4.0 that Razorback Killers received. I was wrong. The solid songwriting, stellar performances and revelatory vocals from Holleman all greatly outweigh the minor imperfections (generic, at times outdated lyrics, and the weaker moments of “Last of Our Kind” and “Circle of Secrets”), and I find myself enjoying this record more with each spin. This will be a tough power/thrash album to top in my books this year. Maybe Vicious Rumors can start to get some late-career accolades; they’re certainly earning them.