The Vicious Head Society – Extinction Level Event Review

I’ve had a few occasions now where I stumbled upon a promo in the never-ending heap and was beset by a vague sense of recognition. I’ll set out on a search through our vast archives, swearing I’ve read a review of this band or that, until I finally find the record in question, only to discover that the author of the review was, in a twist of truly Shyamalanic proportions, myself. This was not the case, however, for The Vicious Head Society, whom I still remember well as one of the most nonsensical names for a band I’ve had to cast judgement upon. Overlong and overly pretentious, my middling score did not much please chief proprietor Graham Keane, who called on the authority of other review sites to decry my wrongness. Doesn’t sound like the foremost candidate for AMG-induced self-reflection. Does that mean Extinction Level Event may undergo the same fate?

Slightly surprising, perhaps, that Keane’s project has actually made a few careful strides since the days of Abject Tomorrow. It’s nearly 15 minutes shorter and the average track length has likewise dwindled, making this endeavor noticeably less bloated. The songwriting has improved as well; with the shorter tracks comes a more punchy delivery, and though Keane still loves endless noodling on his guitar, he balances this tendency well between chuggy riffs and fluid solos, and he gives enough room to the other instrumentation and vocals to counter a looming overdose of guitar-wankery. The production has made the biggest leap in quality, going from a dense, brickwalled master that caused swift listening fatigue, to a rich and dynamic master that’s easy on the ears and welcomes the use of your best audio equipment.

Some issues do remain, though. The bloating issue has been deflated partially, but not entirely, and opening with a 10 minute free-form instrumental in the vein of a toned-down Liquid Tension Experiment may not have been the wisest decision in that regard. It’s not a bad track by any means, as there’s some pretty cool guitarwork to be found, but it doesn’t have a central hook that pulls you in, and as such it doesn’t have the drawing power you want an opener to have. It feels like a track that would have worked better at the end as an excuse to pull out all the stops instead of an opener.

Keane previously proved himself very capable in gathering a talented crop of musicians, and he has largely succeeded here once more. I do say largely, because the clean vocals, courtesy of one Nathan Maxx, sadly decrease in quality whenever they increase in pitch, becoming more pinched and off-key the further he has to reach, with a few moments causing considerable cringe. These are contrasted with an excellent set of muscular growls, however, which originate from the throat of Andy Ennis of death metal formation Overoth and frequently remind me favorably of November Doom’s Paul Kuhr. Slovenia native Klemen Markeij on drums rounds out the main line-up, with Keane himself taking care of the guitars, bass and keys, and doing an admirable job at all three, with solid technique that serves to drive the tracks onwards rather than attempt to claim the spotlight.

Despite some questionable vocals and leftover bloat, the sequel to Abject Tomorrow is an all-round success for Mr. Keane. The biggest victory is perhaps not the individual improvements to the production or songwriting. It’s more in the unity I was missing in the predecessor. Extinction Level Event feels like a whole, rather than a collection of cool ideas strewn across an overlong running time. Some things work, some things don’t, but it’s a journey from beginning to end, and one I have been enjoying more than expected. Turns out there is promise yet in The Vicious Head Society. I do love a good twist ending.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 28th, 2021

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