I would wager that about 90% of anything written about Vader in the last… oh let’s say, decade and a half now… centers around the word “consistent” – a fact that is, itself, ironically and impressively consistent. In the twenty-four years since 1992’s The Ultimate Incantation, Vader has built themselves a cozy little home as the kings of thrashy death metal, and they’ve done so brick by brick. Some bricks are bigger than others, and some slightly smaller, but basically, they’re all fundamentally the same. One might say they’re consistent.
Coming off one of the biggest of those bigger bricks in the stellar Welcome To The Morbid Reich some five years ago, Vader downsized ever so slightly with the still strong Tibi Et Igni, and then again ever so slightly with The Empire. It’s still Vader, so you know what you’re getting –this is thrash-based death metal, with Peter’s killer growl and some fine riffs from him and Spider. Relative newcomer James Stewart (likely not the actor) continues to contribute high-quality and high-energy drumming, one reason that these past three albums all stand a notch above the few before them. Equally consistent in quality as they are in overall approach, in that quarter-century, Vader hasn’t bombed yet, so you can likely guess, even if it’s their worst, any new Vader album is still going to be quite good.
And quite good The Empire is, although it doesn’t stand as tall as the two before it. With the expected handful of quality ragers like “Angels Of Steel” and the thrash-tastic riffage of “Iron Reign,” The Empire is Vader doing what Vader does. Some songs feel more by-the-book, “Genocidius” and “Parabellum” fail to ignite as much as the track between them, the machine-gun drive of “The Army-Geddon” and the blasting “Feel My Pain.” (“Genocidius” at least nicks slight melodic components from Star Wars’ world famous score, so that great titular pun isn’t wasted.) The straightforward death of “No Gravity” drops into a closing chug that’s perfect for circle pit eruption, and closing number “Send Me Back To Hell” wraps everything up in perfect form. Still, as between Vader albums, there’s not a vast difference between a great Vader track and a merely good one, and there are none on The Empire that don’t deserve to be here. At 34 minutes in total run-time, The Empire also doesn’t waste a shot, doesn’t overstay its welcome – another Vader hallmark, and bless ‘em for it.
By this point, if you like death metal at all, a new Vader album should at least elicit interest, regardless of anything some schmoe like me can say about it. Perhaps the only critique anyone could make of Vader circa 2016 is that they’re almost too consistent, the AC/DC of death metal, boiling the formula down to basics and then repeating and re-arranging high quality variations of those building blocks.
But then again, if you come to Vader seeking variety, then you’ve come for the wrong reason. Come to get your ass kicked, and then come back for more. Try to do it often. One might say, do it consistently.