An unusually high percentage of the new metal currently coming out of Sweden is extremely retro-minded, with bands like Ghost B.C., In Solitude, Portrait, Entrails, and others basically writing and recording music with seemingly no influences (or equipment) dating past 1991. Needless to say, not all these bands are equal, but the ephemeral moment in music they are recreating is a notable one. Through the ’80s, extreme metal was in a nascent stage, as young bands pushed metal increasingly outward — faster, heavier, louder — into unmapped, untamed wilderness. Metal subgenres as we know them took shape organically, without fanfare. The name “death metal” was coined by the San Francisco band Possessed, who used it as the title of the final song on their 1985 debut LP Seven Churches, with no intention or expectation of it being employed to describe an entirely new, as-yet-unformed genre. Similarly, “black metal” is borrowed from the 1982 Venom album of the same name. Upon claiming their titles, those genres quickly codified and sub-codified, and those codes more or less excluded ur-bands like Venom and Possessed — and Celtic Frost, and Mercyful Fate, and Bathory — whose music predated such subgenre specifications altogether. Today, all those seminal bands are seen as pioneers and timeless greats whose influence extends across all metal. They are also, though, perhaps the last class of metal musicians able to operate without the constraints of genre orthodoxy — without even awareness of such constraints — and even now their music feels somehow untethered, boundless.
Among the new crop of Swedish bands trying to re-inhabit that bygone moment in time is Vampire, a four-piece who, like Ghost B.C., refuse to reveal their identities beyond their nicknames: vocalist Hand Of Doom, guitarist Black String, bassist Command, and drummer Ratwing. Recorded on vintage equipment at Gothenburg’s swanky analogue Svenska Grammofon Studion (whose clientele includes the likes of Jose Gonzalez, the Hives, and Ikea), Vampire’s forthcoming self-titled debut LP is indeed a detailed excursion down memory lane. (In fact, the band’s portable home studio is called Seven Gates Studios, a tribute to the aforementioned Possessed album.) But Vampire never feels like a stylish knockoff or an empty retro exercise. Firstly — and fortunately — it’s not nearly as thin or tinny as many of the classics and forgotten gems by which it is inspired: It’s a vast, rich-sounding record that merely celebrates a moment when metal had no restrictions beyond its authors’ technical abilities; it does not try for exact aural verisimilitude. The songs, meanwhile, are down-tuned, horns-up dirtbag metal anthems. Primal headbanging sections give way to blunt palm-muted riffs and fleet, whammy bar-bending leads (I hear a lot of Morbid Angel circa 1986′s Abominations Of Desolation demo in the guitars); Hand Of Doom’s guttural vocals have the same almost-melodic quality you’d hear coming from Tom Araya or Quorthon. Vampire refer to their music as “skull-fucking death metal,” but that’s not just reductive, it’s inaccurate: This is neither death metal nor black metal nor thrash metal nor speed metal, but a form of retro-proto-extreme metal that will probably soon need its own subgenre tag. I’m cool calling it “vampire metal” for now, till something better comes along. We’ve got one song from Vampire for you to spin today: “Howl From The Coffin.” Check it out.
Vampire is out 3/18 via Century Media.