Vader – Solitude in Madness (2020)REVIEW

No breaks, no controversy, no need for a ‘comeback’, no questionably commercial albums, no dips in quality, and after a full run through their twelve album stretch between formation in 1983 ’til today it becomes even more important to argue that there is no more consistent and true-to-form death/thrash metal band than Vader. The hesher hive mind splinters predictably when faced with such consistency and often to the point of revealing a collectively ill-defined notion of artistic philosophy, a conversation that too-often overshadows the nuance at which Vader approach their well-defined sonic identity. Should the artist know themselves and iterate to suit their own tastes or, do their best to leave a mark on music history with a desperate, harried plot to innovate? As a fellow who owns maybe ~15 live Motörhead albums I’ll tend to argue for an appreciation of the unique artist doing their “thing”, whatever the fuck they want ’til death and with that mindset in mind, Vader have long been one of my favorite death metal-related bands. I’ve attended every west coast US live date since 2000, bought every single full-length, and ‘Revelations‘ (2002) is more-or-less the album that taught me how to play the guitar. I won’t fall out of my damn chair foaming at the mouth defending them as the hottest shit ever but, I have remained enthusiastic about their steady stream of riffs longer than many death metal fans my age, who’d maybe dropped off after the notably accessible peak of ‘The Beast‘ (2004). So, as often as you’ll read “Their best album in years” all over the dolt-filled cesspool of internet comment culture today with regard for ‘Solitude in Madness’, I’d suggest everything that this album is all of their albums have been. There are, however, some notable enough spikes of change this time around that make Vader‘s umpteenth record well worth any extra hype anyone’d throw at it.

There are four major configurations of Vader‘s core line-up where Mark I was formative, and Mark III was moderately transitional in the sense that it’d been a live line-up selected for convenience. I won’t at all downplay the impact of the earliest line-ups nor the solid work that Daray (Vesania), Mauser (Dies Irae) contributed post-2004 but it’d be Mark II basically 1988-2005, the years with Doc (R.I.P.) on drums, that’d developed and perfected what Vader has continued to be since. On a personal level the first two albums are still definite favorites for my own taste and the strangely triggered drums of ‘Litany’ are the best kind of nostalgia that’d find me obsessed with Polish death metal these last two decades. So, is there any chance of the Mark IV line-up (2011-Present) elevating beyond the beloved nostalgia of old? Well, actually nostalgia was really the point on ‘Necropolis‘ (2009), the very obvious nods to the past on ‘Welcome to the Morbid Reich‘ (2011), and a second album of cover songs dedicated solely to the old death metal underground in late 80’s/early 90’s Poland but, I’d say ‘Tibi et Igni‘ (2014) was a fresh hit of power for founding guitarist/vocalist Peter and a largely new crew. Even as a die-hard fan I could see a certain spark had slowly returned to their works post-2005, and maybe it’d just taken an extended reexamination of their roots to work it out. ‘Solitude in Madness’ is a new high point on that thread — A step up the ladder in terms of cutting and characteristically brutal songwriting, a vital semblance of their classic sound, and it creates the feeling that they’ve hit their stride just as powerfully as they had back on ‘Revelations’.

Vader have a long tradition of fast, hard-hitting brutal death/thrash metal songs that are simply and memorably arranged that land somewhere in the ~2-3 minute range and the majority of their albums, ‘Solitude in Madness’ included, lands well under the 40 minute mark. It is somewhat rare for a ‘legacy’ artist with a gigantic dedicated fanbase to put out a ~29 minute death metal record but this ends up being an incredibly positive trait as the listening experience is fast and enjoyable as a brutal half hour burst of Vader doing what they do best and ducking out while the crowd is still going wild. What works outside of tradition this sixteenth (technically twelfth) time around? Peter suggests that it’d been out of convenience for drummer James Stewart (Bloodshot Dawn) to record in England over at Grindstone Studios with producer, engineer, mixer, masterer (and Stampin’ Ground guitarist) Scott Atkins (Sylosis, Gama Bomb) rather than split the work between numerous studios. This is a pretty remarkable change as the band has worked with Hertz Studios for the last fifteen years but it becomes clear upon firing up ‘Solitude in Madness’ that Vader will sound like Vader no matter where they’ve been rendered. It may sound like a small detail but I found it remarkably satisfying that timbre of the guitars is slightly less blunt than it’d been in the past; Likewise, the drums have a slightly more spacious presence where the double-bass hits never suffocate the low end of the bass tone. This means when the thrash riffs begin to fly and wailing, dive-bombing solos (see: “Into Oblivion”) wail out nothing clashes or feels too sterile. It should go without saying that Stewart is an exceptionally precise drummer who makes ‘real’ the triggered numbness of auld millennium-bound Vader records but a slightly more ‘warm’ presence lends some extra thrust to those hits.

My first thought when firing up this record, beyond that striking Wes Benscoter painting, was admittedly the same reaction I’d had to the prior three records: “This could’ve been the follow up to ‘Impressions in Blood‘ (2006).” The importance of that thought dwindled naturally and I’d gotten the sense that this was meant to be a good ol’ straight forward Vader-assed death/thrash album that blasts out hard and leaves 6-7 catchy-but-extreme pieces in its wake. Although “Despair”, “Final Declaration”, and “Stigma of Divinity” are the sort of fast-burners Peter has been writing since ‘De Profundis‘ (1995) they only really serve as the brutal glue that sticks together the songs you’ll remember best. The burning-in-Hell lungs and strangled lead guitar runs of “Sanctification Denied” find the two guitarists putting an extra-thrashed and otherwordly spin on a classic mid-to-fast paced Vader style of songwriting, sounding like it’d been written back in ‘The Beast’ era at times. “Emptiness” pokes at the thrash addicted (and desperate for references to ‘The Ultimate Incantation’) ear while providing some fine examples of what meaningful application of sharp techniques Spider (Esqarial) has brought to the band’s lead guitars for the last decade.

‘Solitude in Madness’ is comfortable, brutal, memorable, and even begins to feel remarkably inspired as Side B comes to a close with a cover of classic Polish crossover/thrash metal mutants Acid Drinker‘s “Dancing in the Slaughterhouse”, from the album with a cover where a chicken carcass is wearing a kid-sized Venom shirt; It is an energetic cover with a catchy hook that boosts the already thrashed-out second half of the album. Final single and lengthier album closer, “Bones”, pulls back into the previously suggested ‘The Beast’-worthy and slightly slower-paced songwriting modus. It works as intended, offering both a place marker for the end of the album when left on repeat while also giving some room to breathe after the generally slammed-out focus of the rest of album before it. Getting a bit of respite that is still appreciably heavy at the mid and endpoints of the record helps make ‘Solitude in Madness’ feel purposefully arranged and easy to become familiar with. I’d found myself ready for my tenth listen by the fifth and slipped into the full listen like a favorite band shirt each time. Nothing challenging, nothing tasteless or odd, no crazy experiments or any goofy shit in there just to get noticed, just steady throat-slitting death/thrash metal Vader-style.

I’m not necessarily too ingrained of a fan incapable of finding any major flaws here, there just isn’t any notable downside to such a streamlined and sharply written record. Although I will say that if you’re wanting anything beyond the known path of any other fine Vader album the only differences here are small, such as the slightly different render from a different studio. The lyrics are timely as much as they aim to remain timeless in their references, poignant when they need to be and defiant of normative thought as always. “Into Oblivion” has a particularly strong suggestion of nihilistic futility that I’d found striking, seeing the naivete in human beings who’d aim for immortal impact where all things assuredly head the way of dinosaurs and dust around us. It isn’t a grand manifesto or whatever, but I appreciate the sentiment matching the cataclysmic, menacing impact of the music. Again, I’m a longtime fan so my recommendation will be high, not because I’m an idiot fan deaf to any flaws but rather because I’ve gotten exactly what I want from Vader for the twelfth time and that sensation continues to be redeeming. High recommendation.

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Artist Vader
Type Full-length
Released May 1, 2020
BUY & LISTEN on Nuclear Blast Records’ Bandcamp! Vader on Facebook
Genre Death/Thrash Metal

High recommendation. 4.0/5.0

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