Barbarian – Viperface Review

Some metal bands progress through their career; their origins marked by unbridled energy and the rawest material of their lives, they develop to assimilate more influences and sand their edges into a smoother product. Some metal bands do not. They bluntly hammer the same music into listeners’ brains, relentlessly seeking the Riff of Power. Italy’s Barbarian put the fist in knuckle-dragging metal, battering the world with heavy music. Having forgone Pythonknee and Cobracock, Viperface is their fifth full-length and first since 2019. I won’t bury the lede: it continues to entertain in the same way that Barbarian always has.

Beginning at the end, the fantastically-titled “Regressive Metal” tells you everything you need to know about Barbarian. They unapologetically know exactly what they are and what they aren’t. Viperface is Heavy Fucking Metal. It’s designed for drinking, moshing and cultivating chest hair. But what’s most interesting is that while the band isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, their atypical fusion of sub-genres is actually somewhat unique. Viperface falls somewhere in the intersection of classic metal, thrash metal and black metal. While the former two form a larger part, harsh vocals and the occasional tremolo-picked passage complete the package. It isn’t a far cry from India’s Kryptos except that Kryptos are quicker and less burly. Rounding out the record’s sound, the production has just the right amount of heft and edge. Each instrument clearly stands out in the mix, but I enjoy the rougher guitar tone and hefty bass presence.

I don’t normally linger too long on the quality of riffs (this is heavy metal; good riffs should be the norm, not a highlight) but there’s a stable of great leads throughout. The title track opens the record with a bang, delivering an adept array of spidery classic metal leads and speedy thrashers. The rollicking, rhythmic grooves on the back half of “Fourteen Daggers” also stand out, as does the grander, heroic introduction to “A Feast for the Beast” which sounds closer to Manowar. To Barbarian’s credit, while these songs exhibit a multitude of riffs and shift around a reasonable amount, Viperface rarely feels unfocused or random. The shifts are internally logical and not so frequent as to be annoying. My one issue with the guitars is that the aforementioned closer (“Regressive Metal”) boasts the only real shout-along chorus and it’s great fun. Viperface is so guitar-centric that it comes at the cost of other types of hook which would fit their speedy, rollicking style.

Other than Viperface’s blunt guitar prioritization, there are just a few quibbles letting the release down. On production, the master is predictably quite limited which somewhat clips the wings of the album’s potential. But the bigger point is that for something which is inherently so backwards-looking, it’s tough to stand out from the genre’s legends without being of truly outstanding quality. What’s here is enjoyable but not so incredible as to incite my highest scoring fervor. And even though Barbarian eschew the excesses of modern metal by running for just 35 minutes, pace and riff-centricity favors tight song-writing. 3 of these 7 tracks are on the wrong side of 5:30 which makes them outstay their welcome just a little.

Viperface occupies familiar territory for those that have already encountered these fervent Italians, but for those that haven’t, it’s as good a place as any to enter their discography. There are just a couple too many issues for my unfettered recommendation but you can’t really go wrong with a metal record that prioritizes high standards of riffs. There’s a lot here for any metalhead.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps MP3
Label: Hell’s Headbangers
Releases Worldwide: August 12th, 2022

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