Man, this March has been ridiculous. Just when all of us chillaxing in the AMG Consortium of the Infernal’s brimstone lounge1 were bitching and moaning about the unfair quantity of choice black metal—leaving in its wake a noticeable dearth of death metal goodness—out of nowhere came Equipoise, Venom Prison, Aephanemer, and now Vltimas. Like Equipoise, but also not at all like Equipoise, Vltimas is a supergroup. Based out of Portugal, the band is comprised of three legends of the metal scene: David Vincent of Morbid Angel on vocals; Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen (ex-Mayhem, Aura Noir) on the guitars,2 and Flo Mounier of Cryptopsy fame manning the kit. Of all the supergroups that exist in 2019, this one generated within me the highest of expectations. Can debut record Something Wicked Marches In meet them?
From the onset, opening title track provides an accurate and compelling template for the riff-based destruction that is to come. You might hear influences from all of the bands from which this talented trio hail, but you probably won’t feel comfortable with a direct comparison to any of them, as Vltimas is its own beast. Fastidious trem-picked riffs backed by blistering double-bass and catchy vocal lines inundate the record, like many good death metal albums, but there’s a certain intangible quality in the songwriting that pushes this record beyond the “good” threshold.
As is all too often the case, it’s the little details that separate good records from great records. Take “Praevalidus,” for example. You might listen to it and decide, “Hey, that’s a pretty neat death metal track!” But listen more closely, and you will hear Flo’s intricate cymbal work throughout the track, suddenly transforming the song into something more complex and interesting than before. Similarly, “Monolith” impresses mightily in its overall construction, but then David Vincent rolls every ‘R’ he can find and in doing so he injects a fun shot of regal flair to the affair. “Everlasting” further proves the effectiveness of a single detail, as it contains a refreshing application of chanting cleans which elevate what could have been just another death metal track, albeit a good one. One particularly interesting detail: any one of the performers on this album could be called the star of the show depending on your tastes and the number of times you’ve visited, which makes each spin more engaging and revealing than the last. Furthermore, the production on Something Wicked Marches In may be pretty standard for the genre, but again it allots enough room for all the little details—the satisfying snare tone, the exhalation of breath at the end of a particularly venomous bark, etc.—to shine through.
There is one nagging issue that I cannot shake whenever I spin this record: everything is so relentlessly consistent. It isn’t a question of quality, which meets or exceeds the standard set by the band’s pedigree. It’s a problem with the similarity between tracks, in that there is often too much of it. Take the opening trio, “Something Wicked Marches In,” “Praevalidus” and “Total Destroy.” They are by no means the same song, but the patterns in the riffs and the drums at times feel strangely familiar. On one hand, this kind of structuring secures the band’s identity. On the other, even the most attentive listeners risk losing track of their progress through the album’s runtime. Over time, I’ve found that I fall more and more often in the latter scenario.
As the first quarter of 2019 progressed I worried we wouldn’t have any good death metal at all (after this month I feel silly about that). Thankfully, Vltimas did not disappoint, as Something Wicked Marches In is a worthy addition to anyone’s death metal depository. Listeners should glean hours of entertainment from the massive talent on hand. Save for a few minor quibbles, there isn’t anything I can say that constitutes a reason to pass on this.