There was a stretch in the early 90s when any Jane or Joe could sidle up to the rail and say, “Bartender, give me a True Norwegian,” and immediately receive a frosty mug of vicious black metal. Not that Norway’s metal scene was devoid of everything else at the time (see Witchhammer’s 1487), but as most of us are incredibly aware, where there was a 2nd Wave will, there was a Norway.
These days, however—and despite the fact that many of the early 90s bands that played a pivotal role in landing Norway on the map remain active and produce what most would at least consider black metal adjacent—this particular part of the world has been very busy producing fresh faces mostly interested in explorations outside of black metal. Proof positive that if you come to expect something, be prepared for the inverse…unless it involves, you know, Cannibal Corpse.
Accordingly, budding Norwegian bands are validating the truth that there’s a lot more to the core of this region than being under the sign of the black mark. Still under it, mind you, always and forevermore, but allowing more inspiration from the Soulside Journey rather than the Funeral Moon, and tapping early prime movers from the roots of thrash, doom, “traditional” or some grisly combination therein.
For those perhaps still unclear about the distinctions separating thrash and speed, which is key here, understand that both were born out of the reasonable desire to increase metal’s velocity, but where thrash was mostly dirty, violent and often crossed over into punk/hardcore territories, speed was more interested in intricacy, actual singing and regularly indulging in classic metal’s penchant for melody and fantasy. That’s pretty much Black Viper, short and sweet: intricate, fast, melodic, otherworldly, and with a vocalist that wails like a falcon fighting a snake.
That intricacy business is the true selling point here, and it’s the impetus that lead drummer Cato Stormoen to create the band in 2016. Instead of attempting to work more complex songwriting into his other thrashier & trashier mainstay, Deathhammer, he decided to use it as a guideline for Black Viper, and quickly rounded out the ranks with friends further involved with a slew of other current Norwegian bangers: guitarist A.M. Torp from Obliteration and Nekromantheon (also responsible for the wonderful mixing job on this record), plus Kato Marchant, live bass player for the delightfully destructive Condor. So, yes, the chops are definitely present, and you’ll hear them right from the jump with the album’s opening title track.
If that particular tune falls short of yänking din cränk, ask yourself the following two questions: 1) Why do I hate heavy metal, and 2) Wait, remind me again why I hate heavy metal? Maybe you don’t appreciate bands that hit the runway with a wonderfully raw edge that maintains a true sense of fast-fast-FASTidiousness? When this record reaches maximum speed, which it does often, the riffs squeal and pinch in a near Whiplash/Ticket To Mayhem fashion, but instead of careening off the rails into a full thrash attack, a prevailing sense of melody (oh lord, those leads!) and touch of medieval chivalry always manages to swing in and keep the beast tied to Classic Heavy Metal. There are moments throughout Hellions Of Fire, particularly in the midst of the expansive 10.5-minute “Quest for Power / The Fountain of Might,” where Black Viper sound every bit as Eternal Champion as they do some lost 80s speed metal band.
As for the vocals, Salvador Armijo is the only member without previous band experience, so the rest of the fellows must have happened upon him hammering away at an anvil on the side of the road somewhere and took notice after he unintentionally hit his thumb and let out a boiled screech. He has a strong delivery that falls somewhere between a young Mark Osegueda (Death Angel) and Jason Tarpey (Eternal Champion), but not quite the full range of either. Suffice to say, his voice fits snuggly within the style, and the record’s added use of classic gang-shouted background vocals unpacks yet another level of nostalgia.
Speed metal has been enjoying quite a resurgence of late, and with bands such as Chevalier (FIN), Septagon (GER), Vulture (GER), Ranger (FIN), Evil Invaders (BE), Blazon Stone (SWE) and Sacral Rage (GR) leading the charge, it’s clear that Europe is largely in control of the reins. With Black Viper, Norway makes a notably sharp and impressive return to the fray, and Hellions Of Fire scores a clear and sincere recommendation for most anyone who counts fast, knotty, melodic speed metal with wailing vocals a high priority.