For those who heard “Kiss the Sun Goodbye,” the debut album from Vampires Everywhere!, get that image out of your mind. It is meaningless now, a blip of adolescence that one must stumble through before emerging as a man.
That lineup and sound are gone, banished to the four winds by a self-identified vampire who believes he’s finally being given a chance to do things his way. As much, Michael Vampire is re-introducing himself to the world as the titular frontman of Vampires Everywhere!, a band with more common ground with the heady days of sludge perfection than the primped and primed look of screamo today.
What stuns most about this new album “Hellbound and Heartless” is the way it grows on you. At first blush, the tracks don’t leave much of an impression; the stripped down, back-to-basics heavy metal sounding anachronistic. Yet, listeners should be advised to have patience with this album, as the more spins you give it, the more the music blossoms and reveals itself as a glass-shard bouquet of late nineties sludge revival. Formed from the frayed, all-too-often-forgotten strands of musicians who ruled the roost like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, Vampires Everywhere! brings back a sound that has laid dormant for too many years.
It’s worth noting that the album doesn’t truly attain runaway speed until the middle of its run, beginning in the second act with the pulverizing “Star of 666.” Equipped with a simple cadence and a five-note distortion riff, the song bulldozes a path for the infectious, strip-club worthy hook riff of “Kiss of Death.” The latter song is the album’s pinnacle achievement, blending both the dire, dramatic nature of heavy metal theatre with the sense of bedeviled fun that characterizes the idiom. This pair of songs is both haunting and revitalizing, serving as the album’s pulse and best proof of life.
Everything else successful on this album, and there is an awful lot of it, branches off of that tree. Whether the tone-heavy solo of “Plastic” or the near-grunge, angst-y colorings of “Unholy Eyes,” “Hellbound and Heartless” lives the mantra of ‘what’s old is new again,’ and in this case that is the highest compliment.
Listeners will no doubt draw the easy bridge from Vampires Everywhere! to Marilyn Manson, not only because of the music’s acid-dripping tonality (the flesh-melting kind, not the hallucinogenic,) but because of the sheer virulent brashness of the songs. The music is just plain loud in that way that only heavy metal can be, and relishes in its ability to simply project.
That said, the album brings more guns to the fight than just a taste for retro shock metal (a term the genre likely never envisioned being used,) drawing largely from the punk and classic-rock roots of kickstarters like White Zombie, and the trailblazing heavyweight riffs of grunge’s vanguard. Doing away with the self-adulation of Manson (who, by proxy of writing songs about how he hates himself, proves the opposite,) Vampires Everywhere! is instead mixing metaphors concerning the vagaries of social structures and the end of the world as we know it.
There are a small handful of shortcomings that need to be acknowledged. Michael Vampire’s vocal performance is slightly unbalanced. His brooding, disaffected chanting during the verses is spot-on, but his screamed choruses aren’t especially well-defined or disciplined. His vocals hardly detract from the album’s overall affect, but a gold medal performance by the man himself would have made the album untouchable. It also bears noting that this album requires patience; while we’re not talking about a Bach-ian level of complexity, the music still requires discernment and digestion to be appreciated. It’s awfully fuzzy, so to simply try to grip it and rip it would be to get lost in the noise that blasts forth from every song. Either some temperance of the gain knob or the inclusion of some plodding, near-doom pieces might have gone a long way.
Lastly, “Hellbound and Heartless” doesn’t hit its stride until it’s nearly halfway over, which means the listener must be willing to dedicate the necessary time to the album. It also means that there are some tracks at the head (and at the end,) which are a little lacking.
Don’t let those things be your focus as a listener, though. “Hellbound and Heartless” is a gleeful reprisal of one of heavy metal’s greatest eras; a long-awaited and far too isolated event that needs to be the spearhead for bringing back this titanic movement of metal’s glory. Vampires Everywhere! is far from the band that produced “Kiss the Sun Goodbye.” In fact, they’re a hell of a lot better than that. Give this album a chance if you’ve ever wondered what the child of “The Beautiful People” and “More Human Than Human” would have sounded like.