Ripple Music’s latest release sees the debut of Portland’s own sludge-influenced doom merchants Viral Tyrant. Founded in 2018 by bassist/vocalist Casey Martin and guitarist Dylan Fields, the pair joined forces with fellow Pacific Northeast dweller and scene veteran guitarist/vocalist Eric Wallace to unleash on the world the four-track demo EP Blunt Force a year later.
In March of 2020, the band added the considerable skills of drummer Mitch Meidinger and were poised to take their brutal version of down-tuned sonic misery to the masses before the band were forced to sit out a considerable amount of time, like the rest of us, just as momentum seemed to be swinging their way.
Undeterred by the enforced hiatus, the band resumed their mission and making up for lost time entered Wrong Way Recording Studio with doom master Rob Wrong to record their full-length debut Vultures Like You in 2021. With the album in the can (mastering courtesy of none other than the legendary Tad Doyle at his Witchape Studios in Seattle), the band set out pounding the road on the West Coast to spread their word and after releasing the single Vosturan in 2022, they were ready to take their battering discourse to the next level.
Of the seven tracks that make up Vultures Like You, three of them appeared on the previously mentioned Blunt Force and offer up refined and superior versions here which show the musical progression that the time on the sidelines afforded them, giving the band the chance to hone and expand their diverse take on the genre, which includes black metal, doom and psychedelic prog rock.
Opening with the weighty The Felling Of The Doom Tree, the album begins inauspiciously with a creeping intro and Viking-esque war drums before a dramatic power slide heralds the first of many cavernous riffs and guttural roars. Moving from the, sometimes stately, rhythms into stumbling Crowbar-like hardcore sludge, Viral Tyrant channel new levels of feral angst into the music. Almost two songs combined (as reflected in the nine-and-a-half-minute run time), the second half surges with a choppy, clashing sound before breaking into a beautifully melodic passage complete with a sky claw-inspiring solo augmented by the noodling of Martin’s bass. Just when you think the delicious fuzz is here to stay, they break into a furious sprint for the finish line.
Jarring guitar tones usher in Beloved And Beheaded, the unsettling march of the ringing chords clashes with the throat-scraping vocals as Wallace and Martin trade shouts across the void. As the song evolves into a neck-snapping stomp, the band grows in power and confidence to throw this out with the bathwater and lean into the punk-infused, full-tilt sludge frenzy of the second half which features a hooky off-kilter solo that is part psychedelic trip and part jazz mania.
a slow pummelling exercise in heaviness…
The 2022 single track, Vosturan, is up next, and the drawn-out buzzing doom tone is in full force. After a quick sample, they lurch into a slow pummelling exercise in heaviness that rumbles with impossibly deep low-end noise that crawls like the evils of the world escaping from Pandora’s box. The teasing string bends pay homage to the eponymous Black Sabbath song that started it all but grows to feature a vintage feeling solo and quiet passage that is twisted by the savage vocals, making this track a huge highlight and standout.
Beacon Omega starts with a sonar-like pulse that sees Viral Tyrant restrained in their slow build top, punctuated by a strangled, anguished cry as the band gear up to a rhythmic groove, which they shatter almost instantly with urgent drumming. The track never quite descends into full unhinged chaos but delays the payoffs and introduces shifting lead runs, which is a great effect and highlights my slight issue with it. Unlike Vosturan, this feels inconsistent and never quite settles enough to give you a chance to sink your teeth into what is going on, but the call back to the sonar ping at the end does at least round it off nicely.
After the somewhat disjointed nature of Beacon Omega, it is nice to hear the clean, light guitars of The Great Traverse. The almost prog space rock meanderings of the sprawling instrumental are unafraid to take their time and feel loose and jam-like with moments of payoff, like the head-banging breakout towards the end or the dancing runs of notes that make up the dominant lead guitar.
This rich tone carries over to the intro of A Savage, Ensnared and after the echoey spoken word begins, a clashing tumultuous and pounding doom workout emerges with duelling vocals that, despite the intensity, brim with melody and flair that sees the album gathering strength towards the back end. As with previous entries, the track seems to comprise of two halves and the band opts to slow the pace, rather than go for the jugular, looking to create a dense atmosphere as the spoken word returns for the conclusion.
The salvo entry is the misleadingly titled Blunt Force And Sheer Ignorance. Rather than being a Cro-Mags-esque thrash, the album comes to a close on a shifting and complex combination of funeral doom and hardcore battering. Not quite suffering from the same stuttering as Beacon Omega, the band never-the-less pack a lot of changes into the sub-seven-minute run time which distracts from the takeaway go-home feel of the final minute.
Vultures Like You is an ambitious statement of intent from a band with a lot of positives. As far as debut albums go, this made me want to spend more time with the band and keep an eye on them in the future. If they can iron out the delicate balancing act of executing their expansive vision without allowing them to drift into distraction at times, then they will be more than fine.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden