If Vulture isn’t a name you’re familiar with, let me bring you up to speed. Their 2017 debut The Guillotine proved to be a word of mouth sleeper hit whose buzz caught the attention of Metal Blade Records. Ghastly Waves and Battered Graves will be the German quintet’s debut as artists on the Metal Blade roster…and it’s fucking amazing.
If our more dedicated readers were to check my backlog, they would see that the majority of my album reviews share a similar sentiment. In short: I blow my load on bands that I REALLY like. Even though Vulture is a band that I REALLY like, I came to my above conclusion after a week of solid methodical listening. In an attempt to provide a broader scope of the magnitude of the awesomeness that is Ghastly Waves and Battered Graves, I’d like to breakdown the elements that make this album…fucking amazing.
Roving bands of leather-clad maniacs have been terrorizing the metal scene since its inception, and this is where Vulture declare themselves the alphas of the modern-day heavy metal maniac pack. This style of metal has always run the risk of veering into amusement park ride territory and/or falling victim to juvenile musicianship, but neither occurs on this album.
The guitar work on Ghastly Waves and Battered Graves is razor sharp throughout. The tradeoff between the rhythm and lead guitars on “B.T.B. (Beyond the Blade)” is fun, scary, and leaves you on the edge of your seat. If you like your heavy metal mania served with an extra helping of beefy thrash riffs, look no further than the title track and “Stainless Glare.”
Now that the T-word has been inserted into the equation, now’s probably a good time to mention the sub-genre roulette that makes up a large part of their sound. It’s very easy to get lost in actually defining what KIND of metal they are, whether it be speed, thrash, or just plain old heavy metal. Vulture can be defined as all of the above, as they utilize all of those genres’ best tricks. Even though “The Garotte” starts off with some John Carpenter-inspired atmospherics, it’s difficult to not call this song thrash with its pummeling riffs, gang vocals, and Megadeth-esque breakdowns.
On the flipside, the song is fast, and they’re all dressed in leather while singing about horror-related topics, which could make them a speed metal band. To top this off, the soloing is a lot more melodic than the usual thrash fare, and the vocals are a bit more on the traditional side than the usual blackened/punky doomsday prophets that make up the majority of the thrash vocalist landscape. The result is that Vulture’s horror movie vibe actuality works because like any good horror movie, they leave you guessing what’s going to happen next.
The range of Vulture vocalist Steeler is one of Vulture’s most sublime characteristics. While most singers in this style run out of steam with boogeyman tactics, Steeler’s Spring-Heeled Jack narration sounds like it requires little effort on his part. His ability to start at King Diamond level theatrics and polish it off with barrier piercing shrieks is as unique as it is diverse.
The title track is a nice smorgasbord of Steeler’s abilities, punctuated by a predatory war cry at the 3:40 mark. Along with another of Steeler’s ear-piercing shrieks that kick off the anthemic “Murderous Militia,” it’s no wonder these guys call themselves Vulture. There are also moments, “Tyrantula” being the most notable example, where Steeler adopts a more straightforward approach that is manic in its simplicity. Combined with his overall mischievous attitude, Steeler’s likeability and talent make him not just a great metal vocalist, but a great orator of dark and morbid tales.
This is another area where most bands in this style and with this image fall flat. A lot of bands rely upon jumping out of the bush and screaming “Boo!” as many times as they can. Giving credit where it’s due, Vulture does use the “boo!” factor quite competently, but it’s not the only trick they rely upon. The most fundamental element of a memorable song is telling a story. Whether it be album opener “Fed To Sharks” or “Dewer’s Hollow,” several songs on Ghastly Waves and Battered Graves have a unique narration both musically and lyrically that introduces an anthology element to the album which adds further seasoning to the album’s horror movie mayhem.
Does the album cover hit all the main bullet points for cool art? Yes. Does the album’s overall presentation feel like a cool-looking board game that you’d win as a door prize at a convention? Yes. Is any of this relevant to the album’s quality? Kind of.
As thirty plus years of metal have shown, a cool looking album cover doesn’t always equate to a cool sounding album, and it’s poor form to integrate the awesomeness of an album cover into a logical assessment. However, this is yet another area where Vulture walks around the landmines that most bands in this style comically step on. It’s also important to mention it in this case since the reasons behind why I chose to mention goes straight back to why I rank Ghastly Waves and Battered Graves as fucking amazing: musically, lyrically, thematically, Vulture talks the talk as well as walks the walk.