Black Viper - Hellions of Fire - (8.5/10)
Published on October 3, 2018
What do you think of when you think of Norway? Fjords? Well, I mean I guess so, but that’s not really what I’m getting at. Skiing? OK, there are more things associated with Norway than I thought. What about musically? Anything come to mind musically? Jan Garbarek?! Come on is a metal site! I’m talking about black metal! When you think Norway, you think black metal! Well, at least normal people do, you weirdo. I definitely associate Norway with black metal, so when I see a band that plays a style other than black metal from Norway, it always rustles my tail feathers (so to speak) a little bit. Especially when the band doesn’t play in a more extreme genre—though Norway is known for its second wave black metal bands, there are a couple heavy hitters in the death metal scene as well (Molested and Obliteration come immediately to mind). So, Black Viper definitely rocks my boat (so to speak) more than a little bit, being a speed/heavy band from Norway (Although they do share a member with Obliteration, which is fun). I mean, what do I expect? Are they going to sing in Norwegian? Are they still going to wear corpse paint? Do they Even really exist? The answers to those questions, respectively, are no, no, and yes. And thank Jan Garbarek they do, because their debut album, Hellions of Fire, is one of my favorite traditional metal albums to come out his year.
Black Viper are firmly in the realm of 80’s speed/heavy metal, but that doesn’t mean they are derivative. Most of this album is fast and furious in the tradition of speed peddlers of yore. But Black viper lend a sense of the epic to many of their songs that really sets them apart from a lot of modern speed metal bands. The Intro to the album spells this out well, beginning with clean guitars before building into a totally righteous melodic heavy metal riff, which is swiftly followed by some speed metal madness and screams. All of the songs with either slashes (“/“) or parentheses (()) tend to have a more epic feel, given the fact that they’re relatively long, and songs with slashes and parentheses just tend to be a little more cinematic. There are sections of these songs that are slower and bring to mind the marching of an army across the planes (Quest for power / The Fountain of Might has a main riff that is simply stomping).
Though the longer songs are where the misty-eyed adventurous spirit comes out most, there is a palpable sense of melody and yearning even through the bludgeoning speed metal of the shorter songs. Speed metal (straight up, no chaser speed metal) is one of my least favorite metal subgenres, because I often find that songs run together in a way that doesn’t happen to me with many other metal subgenres. Black Viper, however, injects enough tendencies from traditional heavy metal to make these songs memorable and distinct from one another. Lots of aspects set these folks apart from their speed peers. Their riffs are quite melodic, they switch tempos pretty often, and their vocalist sounds like a USPM crooner rather than an aggressive speed metal maniac. Indeed, he reminds me a lot of Eternal Champion vocalist, Jason Tarpey. He’s got kind of a cool, low key yell that he interrupts with ear piercing shrieks throughout.
Black Viper does retain the aggression of traditional speed metal, however, mainly through their constant tremolo riffing and a particularly propulsive drum performance. Seriously, if you take a peek anywhere at this album, Cato Stormoen is likely blasting away at his double bass drum, murdering his cymbals, or keeping a mean skank beat. Actually, the skank beat is this man’s main mode of communication, and though it’s a beat that I think can get tired very quickly, the constantly changing tapestry of riffs keeps it from getting old. The rhythm section also works really well together. The loud and aggressive bass often holds down a different riff than the screaming guitars, which matches up well with the formidable drums to create a fantastic foundation for these melodic master strokes to flourish.
Highlights include all three of the more “epic” tracks—with particular emphasis on the emotional ending to Quest for Power – The Fountain of Might (“freeedoooooommm”)—the hyper-aggressive Storming with Vengeance, the mysterious Suspiria, and the crunchy, groovy, Freedom’s Reign, which masterfully dances from all out chaos to more controlled and focused riffing with ease. I realize I just mentioned 6 out of the seven songs. That’s because this album rules. This is a high quality album filled with fiery riffs, aggressive speed drumming, forceful vocals, and great songwriting. If Black Viper keep this up on their subsequent albums, you might have to add speed metal to your list of things you immediately think of when I say “Norway” (along with Jan Garbarek and Fjords, you weirdo).
Aaron’s Accurating: 8.7/10