BARBARIAN – Viperface (2022)REVIEW

Back to the dirt with ’em, a great stinking cemeterial heap in mind. — The times they are a-changin’ or so they say, yet we find mankind once again self-immolating within the same ole slow-spiraling descent into overcrowded, insane devolution, and this time irreparably so. We know for certain we’ve hit the endgame as successive generations become almost proudly incapable of distinguishing reality from snake oil, fiction and straight up lies. Thee hilarious tedium of sentience finds a threatened apex species at the base of a blood-streaked hill calling for “progress” and meeting only gnashing teeth. For over a hundred years we’ve been given the ultimatum of socialism or barbarism from a few great minds, and it seems human nature has made its call toward extinction by necessity. Try to cull tyranny, fiefdom and infectious ideology from the wastes if you will, there just ain’t enough oxygen to go around either way, man. The ignobility of the savage, the primitive beasts among man will thusly survive longest for their unerring sense of mindless conquer above all, or, the meritocracy reinforced by their blade. With this in mind, we can safely say that Fiorentino heavy metal trio Barbarian are ahead of the curve by virtue of living in the past and honing, tempering with unholy fire the timeless craft of terrifyingly strong metal regression which now proves impossible to bend, or break from its elite focus. Their fifth full-length album ‘Viperface‘ makes clear their leadership position not by thinking man’s virtue but by way of growling furor, bloodlusted shanties and swinging a double-headed axe proven more than capable of impossible carnage.

Blasphemous, backwards-thinking heavy metal from the start Barbarian were forged in place, a statue built in the image of the crossroads where Venom and Manowar collided in the mindsnare of early 80’s heavy metal that’d birth over-the-top extremism. Ripping Storm ringleader, ex-Agipunk head-grinder and metalpunk legendry Borys Crossburn (Children of Technology, Disarm) has been the major force behind the trio since forming in 2009, basically perfecting their major 80’s black/heavy metal stride over the course of several albums. You can quickly parse most of their history up ’til today by way of my review of Barbarian‘s fourth album ‘To No God Shall I Kneel‘ wherein it’d been possible to decode their ’til 1985 ideal in well enough detail. This includes but is not limited to strong appreciation for rough-edged and inspirational classics such as Omen‘s strident idyll on ‘Battle Cry‘, Running Wild‘s glass-throated speed/heavy anthems on the indomitable ‘Gates to Purgatory‘, and the gut-kicking riff mastery found on the first couple of Celtic Frost mLP releases. Of course we’ve got to consider the ancient black metal side of this equation and the germinal rhythmic nature of Motörhead alongside some occasionally sharp influence from UK82 on the rhythm section but it is all relative to the greater reap of the band who’ve iterated upon the memorable bludgeon of their previous record with an even more direct slap on ‘Viperface‘. It might appear to be exactly the record you’d expected it to be per their steadfast modus but this one is even more straight to the point, heavy on the catchier pokes into the inspirational past and will pretty much land untouchable front to back if you’d been a big fan of their previous LP.

This time around we’re hit with an inverted running order wherein the energized, sorta epic title track hits up front with the mid-paced speed metallic charger “Viperface” and the anthemic attitude adjustment comes with the final punch-out finale of “Regressive Metal” with its ‘Morbid Tales‘-esque riffing and memorable chorus. The full listen echoes these 3-5 minute archetypes consistently thought each once again stands alone in terms of where we can parse Barbarian‘s inspiration pulled from, such as the pre-‘Hail to England’ hit of Manowar which leads us into the otherwise pre-‘Under Jolly Roger‘ surge of Running Wild sized sing-along on “Chant of the Inflicter”. Of course my comparisons are slightly reductive or generalized to some degree but if you are a fan of said groups and familiar enough with their work the song itself raises that banner with a purpose, or, on purpose. Beyond the referential nature of the song itself the thread of lead guitar melody and the turns taken between ‘epic’ heavy metal stride and buzzing speed metal aggression feel suitable ancient and manage notable memorability per my own tastes in classic heavy metal. “Whisper My Name” follows this lead naturally, carrying that German speed/heavy metal specificity to a greater high as the pace picks up and the backing vocals heighten the dramatic rush of the song as it barks forward. I was already sold on this album just three tracks in and from the first listen, already knowing what Barbarian are all about, being fully conscious that this record was aiming for songs and not about mauling their style into anything else.

The best parts of ‘Viperface‘ lean into the mid-paced stomping epic heavy metal side of things. As much as I’ve always enjoyed the double-bass kicked speed metal side of the band, their snarling menace and knack for slugging-out slower pieces generates an appreciable atmosphere on (my personal favorite track) “Fourteen Daggers” and the aforementioned “Chant of the Inflicter”, becoming a more compounded part of their arsenal here as they end the record. The grotesque, fist-shaking finale of “Regressive Metal” takes a step beyond their “Obtuse Metal” call to arms on the previous album, again giving nod to the Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost part of their whole equation with a “Circle of the Tyrants”-esque downturn. The more ‘epic’ feeling of a few pieces might land this ~35 minute record slightly more involved yet less varietal compared to ‘To No God Shall I Kneel‘ as a full listen but I’d end up enjoying the flow of the tracklist and the easily repeated cycle of the full listen even more this time around. Barbarian haven’t changed drastically here, if at all, on this fifth LP — They still rule the roost they’d inhabit clobbering through ‘Viperface‘ with a clear, easily enjoyed purpose of memorably bloodlusted and hard-edged heavy metal songcraft. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (82/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Hell’s Headbangers Records
RELEASE DATE:August 12th, 2022

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