Outer Isolation (Heavy Artillery)
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by Phil Freeman
Arizona thrash act Vektor don’t make things easy for the casual listener. Their last album, 2009′s Black Future, was a stark and unforgiving assault, from its black and white, hand-drawn cover art to the music contained within. Three of its nine songs passed the 10-minute mark, with the album closer, “Accelerating Universe,” a 13-and-a-half-minute odyssey. The group’s lyrical subject matter, on that album and this one, is mostly science-fictional in nature; “Hunger for Violence,” from the debut, was their only side trip into rote brutality. The music, though, is so intense and so precise that when they’re blasting through one of their epic songs, it’s easy to become exhausted.
Fortunately, they’ve exercised a lot more compositional discipline on Outer Isolation. With the sole exception of the album’s first track, “Cosmic Cortex,” no song is longer than eight minutes and most are around five. They’re still galloping along most of the time, but there are some tracks with extended midtempo passages here, too, like “Dying World.”
Vektor take a progressive, sci-fi approach to thrash that’s heavily indebted to Voivod, but with some jazz-fusion elements, particularly Frank Chin‘s bass sound, that remind me of Florida death metal acts like Atheist, Death and most of all Sadus (because Vektor lack the finger-knotting intricacy of Death or Atheist). Vocalist David Disanto has a hoarse, occasionally quite high-pitched shriek that’s sometimes reminiscent of Schmier, the frontman for German thrashers Destruction, and other times nods to black metal, or even that chilling high-pitched inhaling sound Einstuerzende Neubauten‘s Blixa Bargeld makes. This could easily be a deal-breaker for some listeners. Fortunately, there are long stretches of instrumental interplay making up the bulk of every one of their songs—vocals are at best an adjunct to what this music is really all about, which is frantic two-guitar interplay, full speed ahead.
What’s maybe most interesting about Vektor is that, unlike the vast majority of their peers, Disanto and Erik Nelson actually tune their guitars up a half step, rather than downtuning. This gives them a high-pitched squealing sound which makes many of their riffs sound pinched-off and even more precise and insectile than they otherwise might, and leaves plenty of space in the mix for Chin and drummer Blake Anderson to keep the hammer down. Indeed, unlike the usual thrash wall of fuzzed-out midrange noise, the mix on Outer Isolation is relatively spacious, with lots of instrumental separation and a dynamics. Chin even gets a bass intro on “Dying World,” and he dominates the dense thicket of sound on “Dark Creations, Dead Creators,” which almost sounds like Rust in Peace-era Megadeth, and the extremely Voivod-esque “Fast Paced Society.”
Vektor are a really impressive band; it’s almost impossible to imagine their music reaching the mainstream metal audience that listens to, say, Lamb of God or Mastodon or Machine Head, but that’s almost certainly not their goal. The retro thrash movement is one of the most purely “in it for the love” musical subgenres around, and these guys ought to be at the head of the pack.
Here’s a video of them playing “Dying World” in California, back in September: