Statistics would have us believe that life has never been better1. We live longer, have more capital at our fingertips and enjoy a higher standard of living than our parents before us. But this is a sham. Anxiety and paranoia squirms in our guts like a tapeworm as we look upon an ever expanding crowd drawn to bigotry and hatred. It’s no surprise that many of us elope with nostalgia to return to our halcyon days, using it as an emetic to expunge our psychological sick. Music performs this task admirably; it’s short, cheap and on demand, allowing a convenient retreat at a moment’s notice. Vulture are well-equipped to banish the clouds that dim our sunshine, winding back the years with their debut, The Guillotine, a rose-tinted dose of speed and thrash. High-pitched vocals, frantic riffing, NWoBHM-laden leads, coiffed hair, it’s all here, ready to envelope us in comforting familiarity. Does The Guillotine merit more than vague “good vibes” siphoned from the classics or is it just a passing distraction from our existential horror?
From the slightly out of focus and over-exposed band photos to the chrome plated logo that wouldn’t be out of place adorning the packaging of a bootleg Thundercats toy, Vulture have gone to great lengths to make it seem like they’ve been around for decades. Even the (rather excellent) album art has been carefully rendered to deceive, with faint nicks and scratches baked in to mimic a record that’s been manhandled and left in a crate for aeons. I’ll admit I was initially fooled, ready to torpedo the promo thinking it was a re-release that a record label was hoping to turn a quick profit on before the decrepit master tape they stumbled upon turned to dust.
First track “Vendetta” did little to assuage my doubts that these Germans weren’t piercing eardrums prior to the dismantling of the Berlin wall. The track, indeed the entirety of The Guillotine, combines tom fills, rich bass, falsetto vocals and harmonic riffs, all executed at a break-neck pace. A chimera of early Slayer, Meryful Fate, Overkill and Metallica, the music is performed with aplomb and took little time to nestle into my pleasure centre. Vulture aren’t afraid to show which side their bread is buttered on, the opening lead to “Clashing Iron” is an almost note-for-note duplication of the beginning of Judas Priest’s “The Ripper.” This is not a criticism as the songs are designed to trigger the associative dopamine release we experience when recollecting music from our formative years. Building on this elation, final track “Cry For Death” closes out the album in style, the panning drums, driving beat and wicked lead trills makes the desire to slide on a leather jacket, jump on a low rider and greet the evening rain impossible to resist.
The weakness with The Guillotine is that there are few white-hot, memorable moments on the album. The composition is too focused on “the now,” with little thought given to the preceding or following chords. It leaves the impression that there’s no sense of direction or an overall plan. Vulture are analogous to a counter-punching tennis player, content to keep the ball in play and grind out a victory but lacks the killer serve or deadly groundstrokes needed to produce many winners. You’ll hear no complaints regarding the production as despite everything sounding powerful and clear there’s enough added warmth to make it seem like you’re listening to a remaster rather than a new release. The downside to Vulture’s slavish devotion to mimicry lies with their decision to slather the vocals in reverb and bury them in the mix. While it helps sell the authenticity it also undermines the music’s impact and hurts lyric intelligibility.
Vulture aren’t the only act hoping to trade on nostalgia this year as Antichrist released the crusty but impressive Sinful Birth in June. Although The Guillotine is the lesser of the two albums, the virulent and relentless nature of Sinful Birth may leave some preferring the lowered intensity of the former. Vulture is an apt name for a band that has picked cleaned the carcasses of the old and feeble in order to produce the enjoyable-if-flawed The Guillotine. I envision great things from the band in future provided that they hone their song-writing chops and develop music with a defined structure. For now, The Guillotine serves as a shallow but welcome respite from an ill-mannered world.