Having only heard individual tracks from Gothenburg-based band Vampire until the release of their sophomore album, With Primeval Force, the one thing that struck me about their attitude towards death metal above all else was the fact that they seemed to use many artists outside of the genre as touchstones for their sound, whilst nevertheless packaging it within what appears to be a relatively straightforward and barefaced death metal aesthetic on the surface. Undoubtedly, their brand of death metal heavily alludes to classic Swedish groups, such as Bathory and Tribulation, but such acts are hardly uncommonly used as reference points. Instead, what’s more interesting is the eclectic stylings from across the metal spectrum that also factor into Vampire’s sound. The contributions of vocalist Hand of Doom play a significant role in this fact, with the raspy quality of his shouts often leaning closer to black metal than to death metal, whilst there is also a significant influence from various thrash metal artists, particularly Teutonic thrashers like Kreator, evident in Vampire’s compositional style. Even classic heavy metal outfits, ranging from Iron Maiden to Mercyful Fate to Black Sabbath, can just about be heard in the whispers of the melodic flourishes that dance atop the tumult created by the band’s tight and thunderous performances. With even a slight progressive edge incorporated into their approach to songwriting, Vampire’s diverse sound seemingly embodies a significant portion of the recent paradigm shift within the Swedish death metal scene that has seen the rise to prominence of acts who embrace a more comprehensive attitude to their craft, and this is even more true of With Primeval Force compared to Vampire’s previous material. As such, the extent to which the group carve out their own, definitive musical identity is hampered ever so slightly by the extent to which traces of other artists’ material is present in their sound, but With Primeval Force nevertheless stands as a highly impressive marriage of myriad genres across the metal spectrum under a death metal canopy, brandishing a collection of guttural, dynamic and generally enjoyable songs as a result.
From the very opening moments of With Primeval Force with the track Knights of the Burning Crypt, Vampire establish their heavy emphasis on melody across the record, which is carried not only by the guitar leads, but the well-structured chord progressions too. The simple, but no less infectious, melody that introduces the cut is built up in traditional metal fashion, with added harmonies and pounding tom-tom drumming edging the opener towards the thrash-tinged riffage that erupts as the song enters its main body. At this point, the crisp and clear production featured throughout the album’s runtime really shines, with the balance between the melody-driven guitars and Hand of Doom’s husky snarls executed with an astute precision that captures the heaviness of Vampire’s sound without sacrificing their melodic side, as certain production techniques can sometimes do. The compositional prowess of the group is also exhibited as well as ever on Knights of the Burning Crypt, with the strong main riff not even nearing a state of staleness, as the piece manoeuvres through well-timed breakdowns, building the end of the bridge section up just so it can be knocked back down again with the introduction of an acoustic-led passage towards the end of the cut. Seemingly arbitrary acoustic sections have become a trend in metal recently, with bands often throwing them into a piece without any regard for how this will affect the flow of the composition, but here, Vampire incorporate this passage as an adroit transition into one of the most powerfully melodic moments on With Primeval Force, potentially pulling from thrash influences like the recent output of Anthrax.
As Knights of the Burning Crypt smoothly shifts into the galloping groove of He Who Speaks, it transpires that, although the overall sound across With Primeval Force is rooted within the same stylistic origins, a lot of the individual cuts on the record convey their own little quirks that keep the tracklisting from growing tired at any point. Metamorfosis, for example, rattles off killer riff after killer riff, whilst the band weaves in and out of various time signatures and off-kilter phrasings, remaining wholly cohesive throughout, as Hand of Doom seemingly orchestrates the group by punctuating new phrases with his blunt grunts. What’s more, the wailing lead guitar melodies peppered throughout this track reach haunting highs at times, adding to the ominous atmosphere to which Hand of Doom’s booming, echoed vocals also contribute. Revenants similarly blisters through many a progressive groove, whilst the opening moments of Midnight Trial are particularly striking, courtesy of the classic-sounding heavy metal riff that accompanies some searing, call-and-answer guitar solos, before the song blasts into its thumping main section, which seems to have been fine-tuned for head-bobbing. The plodding percussion that guides the dark, grumbling atmosphere of Initiation Rite provides a fitting backdrop to the menacing riffage that later ensues, as Hand of Doom delivers one of his most oppressive and sinister vocal performances on any previous Vampire track. Indeed, perhaps the most striking achievement of With Primeval Force is the compelling character that Vampire inject into practically every one of these nine cuts, with there seldom being an uninspired moment across the whole album.
One thing that should be mentioned is the role that Vampire’s image plays across this album, in that subtle embellishments that play to the band’s aesthetic are scattered around certain tracks as a means of reinforcing the very general themes of With Primeval Force. This slight attention to detail is referenced from the record’s introductory moments, with the sound of a sword being unsheathed being heard as Knights of the Burning Crypt begins to really take off. Whilst moments such as these are relatively minor, they nonetheless hammer home Vampire’s appearance rather well, marking some particularly memorable moments across the record, with the folk choir on Scylla, for instance, being used to a similar effect as to the way in which Ghost have employed choral vocals as to fortify their playfully Satanic image. Although the inclusions of such features are rather minute, they are simply effective in that they build on the character presented by Vampire across With Primeval Force that makes it such an energetic and forceful release.
Through the successful application of their eclectic stylings, Vampire have crafted an ambitious sound for themselves on With Primeval Force that is nevertheless constructed within an authentic death metal idiom, with the incorporation of these varied influences not infringing on the ferocity of their sound in the slightest. As such, in encompassing many of the salient tropes of this new brand of Swedish death metal, Vampire may very well work their way to the forefront of this trend, and for good reason, as they come across as if they have their sound almost completely cracked at this point. There are certainly points for improvement displayed on With Primeval Force, such as the bass unfortunately being buried in the mix at times, and the fact that Vampire tend to wear their influences rather prominently on their sleeves, which is arguably the only major hurdle between the band and a truly definitive musical identity. Outside of a selection of minor gripes, however, With Primeval Force pools together plentiful ideas from underneath the expansive reach of the metal umbrella into a death metal blueprint, resulting in a metalhead’s paradise of an album.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10