Sunday, April 3, 2016

Album Review: Vampires Everywhere - "Ritual"

Vampires Everywhere has gone through a lot in a few short years.  It was only five short years ago that the band debuted on Hollywood Waste Records, but in the intervening period, only vocalist Michael Orlando remains from that release.  He doesn’t go by Michael “Vampire” anymore, the band dropped the exclamation point from the end of their name, and after a genuinely scary and life-altering car accident, Michael changed the name of the band to “The Killing Lights” and then apparently changed it back again.  So a lot’s happened, for those playing our home game.  Now in 2016, the band returns with their third full-length record (no longer on Hollywood Waste, by the way,) “Ritual,” and there’s a great deal of new ground to cover.

For their previous full-length “Hellbound and Heartless,” we saw the band commit to a full sound, an aural experience somewhat like the early days of Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson, but way, way past the margins with distortion and thump.  By contrast, this new record is nearly a complete change in direction, exchanging the fury of righteous angst for the hollow chill of near-electronic production.

One thing to get out of the way first.  One of the single most interesting moments for “Hellbound and Heartless” was when Vampires Everywhere completely reimagined the Nirvana classic “Rape Me,” molding the song in their own sound and laying down a totally different track than the one we had grown accustomed to.  In theory, that’s how all covers should be; creatively inspired interpretations that make people say ‘woah.’  Vampires Everywhere has repeated that trick for “Ritual,” only this time they’ve taken on a tougher sell – a metalized, appropriately whip-tongued hash of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.”  The cover starts out innocently enough, with frontman Orlando speaking through the opening lyrics a la Spider from Powerman 5000, but slowly and surely mutates into something new, particularly as Chelsea Grin’s Alex Koehler lends his serrated vocals into the mix.  For a band’s cover to be notable as part of their full effort means they did something very different, and Vampires Everywhere once again rings that bell.

Anyway, on to the album proper.  The album opens with “Black Betty,” but there’s no Ram Jam in sight.  This, by contrast, continues some of the lyrical themes of rejection and showmanship that the band applies frequently, but the sound has changed to reflect a much greater electronic and industrial influence.  Where the song succeeds is in falling back to a big metal chorus that in isolation can persist without any context from the surrounding song.  “Black Betty” is essentially a song in two halves, and while it’s a bizarre juxtaposition to hear two pieces that have little in common with each other but at joined at the hip, the song is both an interesting experiment and a reasonable showcase of the musical composite to come.

“Ritual” essentially works in two parts, with the Hozier cover as the transitional point.  The second half of the album is where the band shines most, as Orlando and company’s real song-writing chops shine through the thickly decadent facade of industrial.  Beginning with “The Demon Inside Me,” the band uses steady beats and (dare I accuse them?) some pop constructions to craft songs that are at once accessible and menacing.  There’s a lot of open space in these riffs, which is fine and moreover works to the band’s benefit – Vampires Everywhere is not a band that wants or needs to club the listener over the coconut with crazy riffs and masturbatory displays of guitar theatrics.

Rather, as you travel through “Violent World” and “9 Lives” and into “American Nightmare” (not a cover of the Misfits song, though there’s a thought…) what the listener is left with is an impression of a band who may sound thick with loose ends and sludge, but has actually measured twice, cut once, and built a sound framework of rock principles from which to hang their macabre metal creations.  It’s all really very laudable, as Orlando’s vocal performance scales back from the threatening rasp of his previous albums but is nevertheless turgid with attitude and edge.  His new sound fits nicely into the pocket of his band, as his relatively clean lines really make the music’s big choruses pop, no pun intended.

It doesn’t hurt the case of “Ritual” that Vampires Everywhere have also included the requisite dose of good old American rock sleaze, a tradition that began decades ago and continues through to the present.  It’s taken many forms over the years, but in this case it’s a sinister grin that runs through the record, concurrently beckoning and warning the listener about the contents within.

So, attentive readers may have noticed that we did not discuss much about the first half of the record, and that’s with a purpose.  The album’s second half is the shining star, so if you’re listening at home, work backward.  With that said, the track record of bands making adjustments to their sounds is rocky and chaotic at best, which means that “Ritual” is really quite an accomplishment.  Old fans will find new things to like, old enemies should give Vampires Everywhere a second shot.

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