Review Summary: War never changes and neither does Vader.
There are certain bands that defy trends, changes and experimentation for a fully developed and perfectly executed style that gives them a signature musical identity. For example everybody knows what to expect from an Overkill or a Cannibal Corpse record. The question is how well the particular band utilize their songwriting within the frontiers of their style" Does the package manages to come off as fresh, hard-hitting and vibrant, or just the same songs with a couple of variations"
We can ask this question from Vader as well. For more than three decades now, the Polish quartet practices their apocalyptic blend of extreme metal that blends the most brutal yet recognizable elements of thrash metal with the blast-beat driven, tremolo picking fury of death metal. With ten albums, numerous EP’s and other releases they maintained an admirable level of consistency, a household name that metal fans can rely on. With 2011’s “Welcome to the Morbid Reich” and “Tibet et Igni” their reign of musical terror reached a new apex, as the complex, spine-splitting riffworks and song structures were elevated with an inclusion on orchestral/symphonic sounds, making them ooze with dread and decay.
“The Emperor” keeps the intense atmosphere only at a few places, thus serves as a more straightforward and rawer display of Vader’s sound, making it more similar to their mid-2000’s records. Of course there are no fundamental changes: With 10 songs and a 33 minute runtime, it has the brisk pacing and sense of urgency that characterizes the band since “Black to the Blind”. The opening trio of songs are all less than three minutes long, yet they manage to pack breakneck string sections, with well-timed tempo changes. This is especially true to “Prayer to the God of War” which breaks its ruthless, Slayer-like riffing with an eastern influenced lead guitar parts that sound something out from a classic 80’s Bay Area thrash record.
After an exhilarating start the album’s quality drops a bit, as some of the songs do fall into the “sounds a bit same-like” category, with less standouts and highlights. The tempo remains relentless and grinding as one can expect, with songs like “No Gravity” or “Genocidius” fully emerging with buzzsaw-like, swirling rhythm patterns not to mention the Sodom-influenced Teutonic thrash attacks of “Parabellum” or “Feel My Pain”. The only exception is “Iron Reign” with its mid-paced, yet menacing war marching, which serves as a refreshing breather.
Piotr Wiwczarek and his partners also keep up their impressive level of musicianship, with riffs both fast and slower, complex and simple, harmonized guitar picking, not to mention actually memorable and melodic guitar leads that add to the songs, instead of being a bunch of random notes played at an excessive speed. The balanced trade-off guitar duels in “The Army-Geddon” are proof of their professionalism and skill. The sound is biting and vicious, and Pitor’s vocals are nothing short of hellish, ranging from guttural barks to slithering snarls.
Overall “The Emperor” does not break new grounds for Vader and feels a bit restrained, less impressive and colorful than their previous releases. But thanks to their skill and confidence, Vader still delivers an energetic pack of songs that gives death/thrash metal fans exactly what they want. Sometimes it doesn’t get any simpler, yet more satisfying than that.