Vindicator - United we fall 4.5/5
1. Global warning
2. Gears of fate
3. Man undone
4. Bastards of noise and aggression
5. Fatal infection
6. Hail to the thief
7. End dependence
8. Divided we stand... united we fall
9. At war with thy neighbor
10. Fire escape
11. Nationwide ruination
Vindicator, the pride of Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on this band over the years. Beginning with their 2008 debut, ‘There will be blood’ and carrying on through their subsequent ‘Outbreak of Metal vol. 1’ split CD and 2010’s full-length ‘The antique witcheries’, Vindicator have continued to evolve and develop, but never quite managed to put it all together. Early on, there were production shortcomings and vocal issues, and more recently there’s been the difficulty of striking the right balance between ripping old-school thrash and catchy melodic songwriting. Nonetheless, Vindicator have demonstrated a commitment over the years to improving and working out the kinks, while still remaining true to their core thrashing allegiance. With a couple of key line-up changes since their last CD (most notably main songwriter/guitarist Vic Stown’s assumption of lead vocal responsibilities) and a label switch (out with Heavy Artillery, in with Slaney), plus earthshaking performances at the 2011 and 2012 installments of the Warriors of Metal Festival in Ohio, Vindicator appear to be poised for a breakout on their new opus, ‘United we fall’.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer awesomeness that is ‘United we fall’. To say that Vindicator have stepped up all facets of their game would be a gross understatement. Stylistically, the band have honed their sound to a razor-sharp edge, no longer selling the thrash short (as I felt they sometimes did on ‘Antique witcheries’), but masterfully controlling and channeling the chaotic energy and aggression into memorable, clever songs. At this point, Vindicator are a bit like a melting pot of the Big 4 of thrash in the 80s, skillfully blending stellar chops, unbridled thrashing intensity, catchy headbangable riffs and tremendous songwriting into a mouthwatering package. And how about those songs? One of my most frequent knocks against today’s younger thrash bands is their seeming inability to pen actual songs, instead haphazardly lashing together a bunch of cool riffs to masquerade as a song. Vindicator understands songs. They know the importance of dynamics, melody, catchy choruses, superb but tasteful solos (holy hell, James LaRue has become a monster player), and skillful twists and turns to keep the listener from getting bored, all mixed with generous helpings of speed glorious speed. More importantly, they don’t rewrite the same song twice. Each track sticks out as a distinct and freestanding entity from its counterparts, but the whole collection of tunes works together like fingers forming a fist. Cuts like “Bastards of noise and aggression” (an ode to their own bad selves), the epic (even progressive, check out that wacky middle section) 6-minute “Divided we stand... united we fall”, the blinding thrashfests “Fire escape” and “Nationwide ruination”, and bone-crushing opener “Gears of fate” are all virtual locks to appear on my Best Songs of 2012 list. And there are also 3 killer short instrumentals, my favorite of which is the stunningly beautiful clean-guitar closer, “Obsoletion”. What a perfect, understated way to end a thrash metal CD. See, it’s those dynamics I was talking about, not just within songs, but across them too. The only song I’d gripe about even a little is “Hail to the thief”, which treads a bit too close to Megadeth’s “High speed dirt” in the verses for comfort. But that’s a minor point, as the song itself is killer.
Vic Stown’s vocals (a vast improvement over those of his predecessor) are a high-pitched rasp, sometimes not a million miles removed from Suicidal Tendencies’ Mike Muir, but with a definite unique character and charisma. More importantly, he enunciates so clearly that the lyrics are readily discernible without consulting the lyric sheet. That’s important, because Vindicator definitely have something to say this time around. Gone are the gore/violence/horror/slasher/zombie themes of previous records, replaced by a biting, incisive, thoughtful (and potentially controversial) discourse on social and political issues. As one might expect, Vindicator don’t seem altogether pleased with the state of our society. But it’s the manner in which the themes are presented, not just the themes themselves, that makes ‘United we fall’ so lyrically refreshing. “Man undone” rails against the U.S.A.’s genetic rights policies, with lyrics like “Who’s got your double helix by the throat?” and a spoken-word rant at the end where Stown spits, “Your DNA is now property of the United States Government” and cautions, “We are watching/We are listening/We are controlling/We are everywhere.” “Divided we stand” begins with the line, “It started with the collapse of the Federal Reserve.” And “Fatal infection” is a diatribe against the wretched state of economic affairs, sporting the memorable lyric, “Without a corporate sponsorship/You cannot pursue happiness.” You get the idea. This is sociopolitical critique with a brain, kinda like what Dave Mustaine used to do in the old days before he lost the thread of what he was supposed to be ranting about in a haze of Bible-thumping egomania and insecurity. And Stown isn’t all serious, as he shows he can have fun with lyrics like, “Scapegoat, cutthroat/Gonna need a bigger boat,” which makes me laugh every time.
By now it should be painfully obvious how much I love this CD. But even that’s not doing it justice. The last time I can recall being this exhilarated with a new thrash metal release was Heathen’s ‘Evolution of chaos’ masterpiece in 2010. ‘United we fall’ encapsulates everything I love about the genre, and shows a battle-tested veteran band that’s on top of their game, hitting their stride, and ready to rule the world. If you’re only going to buy one thrash CD in 2012, this is the one to get. If you’re a thrash diehard, then Christmas is coming in July this year, thanks to Vindicator. Don’t tread on metal!
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