Review Summary: Relatively unadventurous rhythm work and songwriting aside, Vicious Rumors is replete with amazing vocals and otherworldly guitar leads.
Vicious Rumors's designation as "American power metal" is somewhat misleading in terms of their actual sound. Much like Liege Lord
and other contemporaneous groups, there is little in the way of happy major melodies and the overall sound is much more restrained. Setting Vicious Rumors apart, especially in this relatively early period in their career, was their alignment with the Shrapnel shred-metal sound, with their first album featuring famed shredder Vinnie Moore and the remainder of their albums through to the mid-90s featuring the eerily talented Mark McGee (who has since toured with Gregg Allman's band of all things). With their self-titled, Vicious Rumors don't really exhibit many power-metal qualities outside the vocals, instead opting for a fairly tidy blend of the catchier parts of hair-metal with the image and riffs of speed-metal.
Undoubtedly the most slickly produced and sonically punchy of their early albums, Vicious Rumors drops some of the speed from Digital Dictator
and largely operates with mid-paced, methodical songs like the opener, Don't Wait for Me
. With a simple main riff and catchy chorus, all seems pretty pedestrian until the mid-course where some cool guitar harmonies lead into an amazing guitar solo, one of many throughout this album. The sound doesn't really stray too far from the basic template of mid-paced speed metal, but does speed up for the aggressive On the Edge
, and slow down for the two slower mid-course tracks Can You Hear It
and Down to the Temple
, which place more emphasis on Carl Albert's vocals and serve as the two catchiest tracks of the album as a result.
By and large, the basic template songwriting structure of "verse-chorus" of the album is where it shines the most by cutting a lot of wasted time and getting to the standout choruses pretty briskly. The opener, World Church
and Ship of Fools
are the clear highlights, with the most interesting variation in riffs and most "progressive" feel with some ominous guitar harmonies that contrast with the more catchy basic metal sound. Ship of Fools
in particular is especially impressive, with a great vocal performance and a much darker tone reminiscent of Rage for Order-era Queensryche
stands out as the the most technically impressive track, with the most overtly "power-metal" chorus and an extraordinary extended harmonized lead and two great solos.
The great lead work and amazing vocals give a good basis for the more traditional "verse-chorus" style of songwriting on display, but what ultimately falls short and holds this album back is the rhythm guitar work. The riffs aren't necessarily boring or not catchy, but where many metal bands of this period really pulled out the stops to provide some unique and impressive rhythm work, Vicious Rumors seems to be very conservative and don't really break the mould of simple, clean and methodical riffing. It does start to work against the band on their faster tracks, where it feels a little too tame and predictable and undermines the impact those parts were meant to have. On the bright side, the simpler riffs do often get traded out for cool harmonies in the breaks and the sound is very beneficial to Carl Albert's vocals, which can take charge and do successfully lead many of the tracks.
Vicious Rumors lives and dies by its vocals and lead work, which are thankfully both great and plentiful throughout this album, but it does survive more or less on the razors edge due to the relatively dull guitar riffs through the verses. Given the numerous incredible guitar solos it does feel a little baffling that this album didn't feature similarly impressive guitar riffs, but despite the lack of that central strength, the good production and concise, catchy songwriting keeps the album from being bogged down. As a result, Vicious Rumors is a tidy album with lots of great highlights and overall consistent quality, but doesn't reach its full potential and amaze outside of its top draws like Ship of Fools