Album: Hellions of Fire
Label: High Roller Records
Genre: Heavy Metal / Speed Metal
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Speed metal, the subgenre that time kind of forgot. The cards were never really stacked in its favor. It wasn’t a big musical innovation (even the drummer of Black Viper admits as much: “It’s fast heavy metal anyway”) and it didn’t bring forth any new aesthetic that later subgenres of metal did. It was a logical progression of the heavy metal sound, same as the later styles sought to advance the genre by probing the extremes. More speed, more heaviness. However, it arrived at a real awkward time – it was sandwiched right in the couple years between NWOBHM and thrash metal. It did greatly contribute to the latter’s style but was eaten right up by thrash’s much more compelling musical evolution. There was a sort of “true” inheritor to speed metal in the form of power metal a bit later, but that also took on a life of its own.
It might remain just a historical curiosity, a brief half-step before conquering greater musical realms. But as has been practice in metal’s past decade, lots of bands look back to the 80’s and 90’s to unearth olden styles and aesthetics. A large chunk of those end up being uninspired retreads of what has been done much better before, sounding anachronistic and dull. Others, however, manage to revitalize these artifacts, successfully reconstructing its old might, showing that they were prematurely abandoned and that playing compelling music with them is still possible. Black Viper, undoubtedly, fit into the second category. And, so the boys from Oslo jumped into their time machine and brought back riches from the days of Agent Steel and Exciter.
First, let’s mention the production. It is decidedly old school, but obviously recorded on modern equipment, giving us both that retro edge and clarity allowing fuller expression. The stage is wonderfully set for some razor-sharp riffage, and boy is there plenty of that. The opening title track kicks you right in the ass and tells you to bang your fucking head, which you gladly oblige. The lyrics, a story of a demon invasion put you right into the action, scrounging for your war axe. It’s a long song at 7:22, but you never notice it. There’s no time to look at your watch in the heat of battle.
Black Viper show chops at an impressive level. Not only can they write real tasty riffs and guitar solos (also a vocalist that graduated cum laude all the heavy metal styles), but their songwriting skill lets them arrange these into quite engaging compositions. In most songs they rightly choose just that perfect tempo that keeps energy high but not tiring. We got some straight blazing rampages, like aptly named “Metal Blitzkrieg” and “Storming for Vengeance”. But there’s also longer journeys like “Quest for Power – Fountain of Might” and the closer “Nightmare Mausoleum (The Sleeper Must Awaken)”. There’s some diversity in these that doesn’t stray too far from the speed metal formula, but still signals that the wages are higher this time, like a proper epic quest should. Of course, there’s room for improvement. There is a bit of fat to trim, as not to be snagged by the demon of comfortable sameness who can be seen lurking about the album. It’s also not helped that the old school production dampens the dynamics at times, so some great songwriting moments don’t always come through as they should. But all in all, I need to admit that Black Viper’s debut is quite a stellar achievement.
Hellions of Fire is an album that reminds me why I love metal. Nowadays I’m more of an extreme metal guy, but I don’t think anyone’s really started that way and gone straight off the Burzum deep-end or such. We’ve first been enamored by the likes of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Black Sabbath or hell even Slipknot, As I Lay Dying or some other nu-metal/metalcore band that today figures as a nostalgic guilty pleasure. Black Viper’s stylistic proximity to the origins of metal gives them a great position to invoke those qualities that first attracted us. It is the energy, the enthusiasm, the sincerity, even when invoking silly subjects and imagery. It’s not caring about popular opinion, it’s focusing on your own thing (i.e. screw you I’ll play classic speed metal in 2018). This is the quest to write songs that electrify every fiber of your being (culminating in the sacred ritual of headbanging), that take you to a place of mind nothing else could. Black Viper are unapologetically metal to the core, and Hellions of Fire is a celebration of all things metal. To cite one of their major influences, Black Viper are true masters of metal, agents of steel.
P.S. The album cover is superb
1. Intro / Hellions of Fire
2. Metal Blitzkrieg
3. Quest for Power / The Fountain of Might
4. Storming with Vengeance
6. Freedom’s Reign
7. Nightmare Mausoleum (The Sleeper Must Awaken)
Total Playing Time: 47:49