Vektor, Terminal Redux: Make Space Great Again
So far this year, I’ve yet to be truly blown away by a new metal album. There’s been some really good, and even pretty great stuff – Magrudergrind’s II and Moon Tooth’s Chromaparagon come to mind – but I’ve been waiting on something to really kick my ass. I’m always curious about whether metal and hardcore has stagnated in certain respects, with the continued rise of linearly-conceived djent/progressive metal distracting from the things that really make this subgenre of music exciting and surprising.
So at this point, Terminal Redux is the album to beat. I’ve loved Vektor since their debut Black Future, an album on which the band emerged fully formed on every level: thematically, sonically, melodically, and compositionally. From the very start, these dudes didn’t give half a fuck about writing 13-minute songs or experimentally drastically with their own form. They took a well-trodden primal genre of metal – thrash – and used it less as a building block of their sound, but more as a spirit for their artistic vision. For me, they were one of few young metal bands that I really felt could go anywhere with what the language they found, like Revocation, The Armed, and Krallice.
Their language is instantly recognizable, but fresh and exciting. The old variables are still there – thoughtful and catchy riffs, walls of dissonant black noise, piercing high-register chords – while they’ve found a way to cut to the core: make almost-psychotic music extremely pleasing and satisfying on a melodic level (as opposed to the more rhythmic approach in that regard by bands like Dillinger Escape Plan). Vektor have a keen appreciation for classical voice-leading and compositional unfolding, so even when they’re laying down a demolishing blast-beat riff, there are always two components going on: a direction for the main melody line to follow, and a harmonic interweaving of each individual instrument.
Terminal Redux also finds a nice new balance in terms of pacing and mood. Not just through soft neo-classical guitar interludes like “Mountains Above the Sun,” or in the overall conceptual sci-fi story the album tells, but within the compositions themselves. Much ink has already been spilled about the psych-folk harmonies on “Charging the Void” and the album’s closer, and yeah, they’re pretty great. Not because the idea is “weird” or “unusual” in and of itself, but because Vektor do the work to earn these climaxes. When the triumphant harmonies finally hit in that song, they remind me of what Pink Floyd was aiming at on albums like Animals – a directional growth that the band leads you along (as discussed by characters in Richard Linklater’s new movie, which I wrote about a few weeks back).
But what I love most about Vektor is that they know how to fucking rock. Songs like “Recharging the Void” have a way of taking the most fundamental aspects of metal – like grooving on a distorted palm muted chord – and by rooting them in simple odd-time signatures or laying exotic modal guitar lines over the top, turn them into something fresh. In this aspect, they remind me of Blood Mountain and Leviathan-era Mastodon. Or even when they’re not doing that, and going light-speed Iron Maiden by just hitting straight 4/4 riff like the climax of “Pteropticon,” or Kill ‘Em All with a smokin’ bass solo in “Psychotropia” There’s a kind of progressiveness that comes out of playing with such fundamental concepts such as these, as opposed to falling into the trap so many “progressive” bands do these days, of vamping on an excessively complicated time signature. Vektor allow their compositions to breathe, and as a result, find things in music that other bands simply don’t by virtue of what they’re actually attempting. They also just like, pile on riffs, man.
Sometimes when listening to Vektor, I’m reminded of the infamous Yngwie Malmsteen interview about the whole “less is more” adage. Vektor are clearly on one side of the debate in that regard, and bear some similarities to Yngwie in their neo-classical parts, but there’s something so insane, so ridiculous about the sheer amount of (and speed of!) their riffs, that absurdity becomes an art in itself – something more than a shredder’s ideology or a genre’s box.