Tuesday 14 June 2022

Reaper - Viridian Inferno (2022)

Country: Australia
Style: Black/Speed Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 22 Apr 2022
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Melbourne-based Reaper tend to be listed as black/speed metal and there's truth to that, but the sound they conjure up goes back to the proto-extreme era. I'm not hearing black metal bands here but I am hearing all the pioneers here. The album begins with an early Bathory groove in Shadow of the Crucifix and stays there for a while, adding a Venom sense of urgency in faster sections and telegraphing of when those will show up, like on the intro to Drop of the Blade. This isn't as fast as you'd expect from a band labelled speed metal but it is always urgent, even in slower sections. By the end of the album, they've also trawled in Celtic Frost, especially on Internal Torment, which is the closer.

The other influences I heard are out of punk rather than metal. Taste the Blood speeds up a little more than the opening couple of tracks before it, but it feels very much like the songwriters were listening to bands like Discharge and GBH as well as those proto-extreme metal bands. As the song gets bouncy in its second half, the metal side reenforces itself, but it never loses the punk attitude and rawness, which, of course, Bathory took and ran with. Given all this, I frankly expected to catch a lot of Motörhead but that influence kept itself hidden, most obvious in the bass on like Nothing Left to Waste, and that surprised me. Lemmy's here more than Motörhead.

Given the band's choice to go with this sort of sound, I also expected them to be older musicians, a group of like minded fans who remember these particular good old days and got together to make new music that could have come out back then, but that doesn't seem to be the case. They clearly aren't teenagers but they're also clearly at least a generation younger than I am, so they weren't around listening to those pioneering albums when they came out. I wonder where the impetus for this sound came from, because I'm sure there are stories there.

Initially the most obvious component in this sound is the utterly raw and raucous voice of Shannon Styles, who bears as much comparison to people like Blaine from the Accüsed and George Anthony of Battalion of Saints as to Quorthon of Bathory. However, as the album runs on and especially on repeat listens, it's the bass of Rebecca Tovey that becomes most notable. Partly because that bass is so high in the mix and partly because the guitar is downtuned close enough to it, it tends to take over songs. Sure, that's guitar feedback kicking off Nothing Left to Waste but the bass takes over so much that we almost forget that the guitar's there. It's Tovey who drives this band.

I liked the dirtiness of the sound from the outset, but it took a little longer for the songs to take a hold of me and, after a few listens, they started to drift away again. That left me in an odd place of liking the album more than the tracks on it, if that makes sense. I don't feel much need to play any of these songs over others, even the best of them, like The Reaper or Taste the Blood, but I do feel like I could pull the album out now and again to immerse myself in its sound. There's a griminess to it that really takes me back.

It reminds me of underground gigs in the late eighties in tiny, sweaty venues in Bradford or Leeds featuring bands who weren't particularly notable but blistered for half an hour nonetheless, then wandered off to the bar. I almost wandered off to flick through the stack of albums someone must have been selling at the back, by an array of bands I've never heard of but had "pay no more than" on the cover and inserts in them exploring the evils of eating meat or experimenting on animals. I bought a bunch of them, even if I stopped for a burger on the way home. This could have been one.

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