Arizona thrashers Vektor hold a special place in my cold black heart, as their previous album Outer Isolation was one of my very first reviews for this esteemed website. Crazy to think that that was five years ago, and crazier still is that Vektor has not released any new music in that half-decade — practically an eternity in today’s climate of short attention spans and equally short tour/record/tour cycles. Fortunately, Vektor has finally rewarded their fans’ patience with a lengthy, almost impossibly dense record called Terminal Redux.
Wasting no time whatsoever on introductions, Vektor dives in at the deep end with the 9-minute “Charging The Void.” If this track is any indication, the band’s Voivod-meets-Watchtower-in-zero-gravity approach remains intact. This song is insanely complex harmonically and structurally, and the Devin Townsend-esque alien backing vocals are a nice touch as well. “Cygnus Terminal” is another dizzying array of space metal, slightly more downtempo but no less progressive. “LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)” opens with a lengthy section of guitar tapping madness, leading to an impossibly fast thrash riff and some neo-classical touches here and there.
At this point in the album, a few stray observations: The first three songs are 9, 8, and 7 minutes long respectively, proving that Vektor is nothing if not committed. Also, vocalist/guitarist David DiSanto has scaled back on his piercing falsetto this time around, preferring to let his mid-range rasp do most of the heavy lifting (see also: Tom Araya post-Reign In Blood). This, combined with a slightly fuller production, makes for a listening experience that is more pleasing to the ears than Outer Isolation, while losing absolutely nothing in the aggression department.
After a few slightly shorter tracks, the black metal-tinged “Psychotropia” continues the assault of 7-minute-plus epics, with a section of solo tradeoffs that allow bassist Frank Chin to take the spotlight briefly. The clean guitar intro to “Pillars of Sand” offers a brief moment of respite, before leading into more thrash insanity and, eventually, one of the best hooks on the record.
Then we come to “Collapse,” which will undoubtedly be a point of debate in an album otherwise devoid of huge stylistic departures. This almost-ballad features DiSanto’s first foray into melodic singing (spoiler: he does alright) and some languid, jazzy soloing by lead guitarist Erik Nelson. “Collapse” is far too weird to be seen as a pandering or commercial move, but introducing those elements is still a bold move on Vektor‘s part, and I commend them for it.
The album ends on a truly batshit crazy note with “Recharging The Void” (not to be confused with the opening track). At nearly 14 minutes long, this one’s got it all — neo-classical noodling, furious thrash, more clean vocals, some sections that border on power metal, and even some female oohs and aahs during the song’s soft middle section. This track alone contains more tasty bits than some bands’ entire careers, and is an achievement the band should be proud of.
Like their two previous records, Terminal Redux is less about individual songs than an overall style and feel, with occasional standout riffs and parts. The 73-minute run time is not for the faint of heart, but the dedicated among you will hardly find fault with having more new Vektor to listen to. Time has proven Vektor to be one of very few retro-minded thrash bands that have anything original to offer, and Terminal Redux merely cements the band’s status among the current elite.
Back in 2011 Philadelphia’s progressive thrashers Vektor rocked my world with their spectacular Outer Isolation album, raising the bar for modern thrash in the process. The Voivodian inspired yet still fiercely original sound the band cultivated on their second album stands as one of my favorite metal releases in recent memory and remains a landmark thrash album in the post millennium era. Big call, but I stand by it. Using the intervening years constructively Vektor finally return strapped with a fully fledged sci-fi concept album on third opus, Terminal Redux. The high concept themes and elaborate construction of this 73 minute whopper are handled with meticulous care, featuring the explosive thrills and twists of the finest sci-fi blockbuster films. Aside from the extra thematic complexities, the basic ingredients of the Vektor sound are here in all their sophisticated glory. Acrobatic, high velocity thrash riffs, technical wizardry and knotty arrangements collide with eclectic experimentation and a strong progressive undertow, with vocalist/guitarist David DiSanto’s distinctive screechy rasp cutting through.
The painstaking work behind the scenes writing the album, performing such challenging material and concocting the elaborate story-line has resulted in DiSalvo and co pushing their impressive musical skills to the extreme, harnessing a stronger emotional connection and intensity from the band. Although Vektor plunges deeper into the progressive pool than ever before while flexing their supreme technical muscles, they remain a thrash band at heart, amplifying this point through every brain-melting cut. The songs are insane in the best possible way; fluid, complex and unpredictable, composed with Krang-like brainpower and solidified with memorable songwriting and impeccably tight musicianship. Whether it be the wacky tech break during the blisteringly brilliant “LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)” or the female soul singers adding a serene touch to batshit crazy closer “Recharging the Void,” Vektor constantly keeps the listener guessing.
“Charging the Void” opens proceedings with furious rapid fire riffing and satellite scrambling technicality wedged into a dramatic and complex structure. The layered clean chants backed by frenetic blast beats rising at the song’s peak provides the first genuine surprise of an album full of them. Elsewhere, brain scrambling songs such as the labyrinthine prog-thrash and evocative melodies on the ridiculously complicated “Cygnus Terminal” are artfully balanced against thrashed-up rippers “Ultimate Artificer” and “Pteropticon.” The latter is a pure Vektor balls-to-the-wall thrasher boasting excellent riffs, delightfully speedy tempos and solos ripped from the classic Slayer playbook, albeit shimmering with a futuristic sheen. DiSanto and fellow axeman Erik Nelson deliver performances worthy of the thrash history books, backed by the beastly technical drumming of Blake Anderson and solid low-end of bassist Frank Chin.
Denser than a brick of triple chocolate fudge and featuring more layers than an oversized onion, Terminal Redux is an exhausting ride that’s difficult to comprehend. However patience and multiple listens reaps plentiful rewards and despite the relentless pace and over-the-top technicality, these aspects rarely come at the expense of memorable songwriting and overall cohesion. The riffs are invigorating, catchy and perfectly warped, while the band flash their adventurous chops, especially on the bizarro final two cuts. “Collapse” is a delightful mashup, part prog balladry, part chugging metal anthem, part strange headtrip, it somehow gels and DiSalvo’s understated clean vocals fit the part surprisingly well.
Aside from the exhaustive length, significant chinks in the Vectonaut armory are virtually impossible to detect. If I’m stretching, DiSalvo’s excellent vocals remain an acquired taste and the wildly adventurous ride may prove too much for your average thrasher. And perhaps it’s silly to gripe about the brevity of a track on such a mammoth opus, but instrumental “Mountains Above the Sun” offers welcome breathing space and interesting ideas before abruptly ending just as it comes to life. In reality these points are merely petty nitpicks. Terminal Redux also sports a fantastic, well balanced production, sounding slick, robust and heavy, with the bass even getting a piece of the action. It falls a couple of dynamic range points short of perfection but is excellent nonetheless.
Overall, Terminal Redux is a momentous, richly detailed space opera for thrash enthusiasts and prog nerds alike. Vektor showed the balls to take some pretty big risks during this daring endeavor and the pay off was well worth it. Is it too long? Probably, but with songwriting so consistently compelling the slight bloating doesn’t diminish the end product much at all. Admirable in ambition and nearly flawless in execution, Terminal Redux is a wildly imaginative journey through a wormhole into another dimension of hi-tech thrash excellence. Don’t miss this epic masterpiece.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Earache Records
Releases Worldwide: May 6th, 2016