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.