Written By: Nameless N00b_13
There are many ways to celebrate Halloween: candy; costumes; horror movies; punk-influenced thrash metal albums from Cleveland. The latter is brought to you this October [Er, November… my bad – Ed.] by Vanik, a thrash band Frankensteined together from punk and metal musicians harvested from the likes of Toxic Holocaust, Ringworm and Vindicator. Following up their self-titled debut, Vanik have now sharpened their Voorheesian machetes in preparation for spreading terror with their new Halloween-themed record II: Dark Season, released by Shadow Kingdom Records.
Vanik eschew the Malmsteenian Theory of Value™, choosing instead to adhere to the old Hollywood adage of “always leave ‘em wanting more!” Their first effort clocked in at just over half an hour, and they’ve maintained course for II: Dark Season. The material neatly toes the thin red line between punk and metal, mixing Misfits-style attitude and concision with heavy Anthraxian riffage. The resulting concoction of songs alternates in speed and intensity, but never ventures far into sing-song-melody world or slows down enough to cross into doom territory. Toss in a vocal approach strongly reminiscent of Repulsion and I was expecting to be left wanting a bit more than what I ended up with.
Vanik’s tastiest treats are the up-tempo, speedy jams that play up their punk sensibilities. “Werewolf” is in and out at just over a minute but thrashes with the kind of intensity that conjures circle pits, underscoring that Vanik are at their best when they keep the tempo high and let the punk flow freely. “We Like to Be Frightened,” a cover from Hawkwind‘s 1979 release PXR5, is the album highlight and the one track I caught myself singing under my breath later in the grocery store. An earnest and high-energy jam that perfectly captures everything that’s fun about both Halloween and punk music, this yummy ditty also delivers arguably the best solo on the disc.
When things slow down, however, the band gives away some of their weaknesses as songwriters. Great thrash albums have riffs that linger in the head long after the album stops. “Heresy Undertow” features one such riff, but it can’t compensate for the blandness of the rest of the song. Mid-tempo tracks like “Beyond the Closet Door” and “Witch Rites” aren’t inventive enough to be interesting or groovy enough to be memorable, even after more than a dozen runs through the record. Dud tunes like these make me feel like I opened my trick-or-treat bag at the end of the night and realized half my haul turned out to be peanuts, candy corn and a pamphlet about the evils of Dungeons & Dragons™.
II: Dark Season is also undermined by a weak mix, which compounds on top of the lesser songwriting and hurts the enjoyability of the music in a big way. Frontman Shaun Vanek’s raspy snarling fits the album’s tone perfectly, but it sounds buried and sometimes fails to punch through the rest of the mix. Bassist Ed Stephens’ excessively dirty tone makes it sound like he’s competing for attention in the cut rather than supporting the guitars. Vanek and Vic Stown’s axework sounds tinny, Al Biddle’s drums lack punch, and the whole thing just sounds unfinished. It’s possible this was a stylistic choice to give the record that homegrown, garage-band-next-door sound, but it comes across as sloppy and feels more amateur than endearing.
It’s frustrating to see Vanik fail to live up to their potential on II: Dark Season because there’s an obvious passion and drive behind the music. In the end, this album did leave me wanting more: more attention to detail; more time spent on the mix; more time sharpening the hooks and perfecting the riffs. II: Dark Season is by no means a failure, it’s more like a missed opportunity. But Vanik can still win with this formula if they up their songwriting game and produce a more professional-sounding record. Halloween comes around once year, after all, so it’ll be worth keeping an eye out to see if they can breathe life into this horror-inspired thrash monstrosity.