Somewhere in an alternate universe exists a blog dubbed “Happy Metal Guy” which exclusively runs reviews of throwback traditional metal albums.1 This must be true, because enough records of this sort make their way into our promo bay – where the majority are subsequently ignored – to make such a website a reality. I think so many of these records are glossed over by AMG staff because, by their very nature, innovation is the least of their priorities, and most aren’t solid enough to make up for the lack of originality. Night Viper’s second LP, Exterminator, grabbed my attention as a rare non-melodeath Gothenburg outfit, and had me signing up for review duties once I learned of their sensical genre-splicing capabilities. Does it hold up under closer scrutiny, or would it have been better off in dimension HMG?

Well, yes and no, but I think Night Viper certainly has more going for them at surface level than most modern traditional metal bands. The first moments of opening number “No Escape” make this abundantly clear with a potentially misleading salvo of thrash riffs. These riffs eventually taper off into a mid-paced, hard rock oriented rhythmic drive; it’s in tracks like these where Night Viper shines brightest, as the interplay between brisk thrash and driving heavy metal is handled surprisingly smoothly. There’s a lot of early Metallica in here (one of the riffs in the title track is essentially identical to a riff from “Disposable Heroes”), but the influences stretch further than that; the sleazy, bluesy attitude of “On the Run” echoes George Thorogood and the Destroyers to a tee, while the lurching gallops of “Lady Bad Luck” recalls primo Manilla Road. Variety is absolutely Night Viper’s strong suit, and most tracks have at least a few surprises to keep the momentum steady throughout Exterminator‘s forty-two minutes.

The breadth of Night Viper‘s influences make for a fun experience on initial listens, but extended exposure reveals some seriously patchy execution. Whenever Exterminator isn’t thrashing merrily along, the guitarists fall back on bland power chord progressions to make way for Sofie-Lee Johansson’s vocal performance, and the vocal melodies are extremely restrictive. I’m not sure if this is a result of Johansson’s range limitations or simply a lack of inspiration on the songwriting front, but regardless, dumbing down the instrumentation to allow breathing room for the bland vox feels like a misguided choice. The lyrical content occasionally rubs me the wrong way, as well. The title track expresses disdain for some undisclosed band that Night Viper once opened for and how said band isn’t as talented or deserving as them; some might say that this holier-than-thou attitude is in itself “metal,” but I ain’t buying it.

Night Viper’s mediocre melodic chops aren’t entirely to blame for the unimpressive vocals, as Johansson’s performances rarely find a comfortable flow. Tracks like “No Escape” suit her voice well as they are built to suit her range, but other cuts, such as “Never Win,” see her taking ill-advised ventures into the upper registers where she literally has to shriek to hit notes that shouldn’t be difficult to reach. Thankfully, the rest of the band exudes technical skill; the rhythm section’s skills feel laser sharp in its precision, and the dual guitarists pull off some seriously impressive and catchy lead harmonies. The production is geared towards highlighting the sharpness of the instrumentation with punchy, authentically old-school tones, but the mix largely neglects the low-end. I have to strain to make out the weak bass drum sound, and the only time I can clearly make out the bass guitar is in the final seconds of “Revenge,” but that’s only because it’s the last instrument to fade out.

Night Viper has a great formula on paper that often lives up to expectations, but it just as often slips into mid-paced monotony that can’t be supported by vocal work that, while not outright bad, feels weak and occasionally grating. Exterminator is a frustrating album in that it feels so close, yet so far, from being good, with great moments that I hardly feel compelled to return to when I think about them in the context of the entire album. For those in search of a fun, varied record of traditional metal, this should make for a decent quick fix, but don’t expect it to sport the stamina necessary to become a regular part of your listening rotation.

That album art is totally bitchin’, though.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Listenable Records
Releases Worldwide: October 20th, 2017

Show 1 footnote

  1. All with highly deserved perfect scores attached, of course.
  • Nukenado

    You got my notice within the first sentence.
    I don’t know whether I should file a complaint to HR or applaud.

    That cover art is awesome indeed.

    • Artyparty

      The art is typical of the genre not very good really there are tons better.

      • Nukenado

        Not the best I can agree, but very stylized.

  • Reaper

    Album cover looks like old final fantasy art.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    They should get a bonus 0.5 for having a cool band name.

  • Yolo Swaggins

    ‘Listenable records’ sounds like an extremely mediocre label.

    “Yeah, the music’s listenable; but not great.”

  • Panagiotis Krokidas

    With no disrespect to the reviewer’s team, but in my eyes there is a clear trend here: retro-metal is meh, but retro-rock is super cool.

    Well, both of them are subject to the same “flaws”: love for things of the past, no-innovation factor, reproduction of old patterns etc.

    I agree that a lot of retro-metal/trued metal are mediocre in terms of catchy lines, but the same applies for all the retro-rock you guys here seem to love. At least, in my opinion.

    Of course, love, peace and you are my favourite metal read.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      Hey, I don’t like retro rock! Don’t lump me in with camp Huck n Cuervo!

      • Panagiotis Krokidas

        Haha. Whoops. Ok, apologies.

        But a general impression comes with unfair lumping!

  • Innit Bartender

    Definitely killer art!

  • Bas

    I like the embedded track.. I hope they also put this album on bandcamp. I would like to check it out a bit more.

  • I wonder if the rest of the album is nothing like the embedded track because the bass comes through nice and clear on my speakers, significantly more than on most metal. I’m a big fan of this sound and am a sucker for bands that employ audible bass so that’s a positive right off the bat.

    Additionally, although I usually don’t like female singers and while I obviously can’t speak for the rest of the music on the album, Sofie-Lee Johansson’s voice sounds good on “No Escape”. More of a rock voice which is appreciated.

    • Eldritch Elitist

      “No Escape” is definitely one of the better displays of her talents, as is “On the Run,” but she really begins to grate on “Never Win” and “Exterminator.” It’s a mixed bag of okay-to-annoying performances, for me. I think her talents would he better suited for a punk band.

      Regarding the bass presence: I compared the embedded track in the review to my promo copy, and they sound essentially identical, so maybe I need to actually listen to this thing through decent speakers. I’ve been listening on a pair of “okay” earbuds (I have yet to set up my speakers in my new place), so that might have something to do with it.

      • I went into biased against it knowing there was a female vocalist and, as mentioned, I only heard one song so it’s definitely possible she doesn’t succeed for an albums length of music.

        The speakers certainly possible with the bass. I am a stickler for the exclusion of bass and a fiend / glutton for the inclusion of it. For example, while the master of Infestissumam is certainly a brick wall but the presence of the bass in the master allows me to forgive this atrocity. I’ve always preferred Helloween’s 80’s mixing when compared to their later material because, while not as heavy, Grosskopf has plenty of presence for me to admire his skills. So when I heard the embedded track I thought, “Oh, bass!” and then as I got to that part of the review I had to scratch my head. I will say, the bass tone does the bassist no favors, however. I do not like his tone at all, as it does blend in / bleed into the rest of the music. I would like a punchier bass tone, but I digress.

        • Eldritch Elitist

          I think the tone might be an issue for me as well. I can make out the bass if I actively search for it, but it blends into the background so that I don’t even notice it otherwise. I much prefer bass tones where I can make out each individual thrum of the strings. My next review is for a black metal album that has fantastic bass presence and a great overall sound, so look forward to that if you’re into the style!

          • Great way to tease your next review!

            I admire bassists who create a good tone as much as I admire those with technical skill. I do think it should not be left up to the listener to have to strain themselves to hear the bass but I live in a perpetual state of doing so regardless. It is definitely a combination of tone and volume that most bands fail to focus on.

  • h_f_m

    Digging the embed. This is good.