|Musical Style: Heavy Metal||Produced By: Impellitteri & Greg Reely|
|Record Label: Victoria/Frontiers||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 34:22|
Every Impellitteri album is special, although it could be suggested that some are a little more special than others. The best in my opinion is Answer To The Master (1994), which with its near perfect joining of commercial sensibilities and melodic songwriting I rank a slight notch higher when placed alongside anything else released by the group. I have always thought of the album accordingly as taking to the next level everything that its very fine eighties influenced predecessor Grin And Bear It (1992) hinted at. Follow up effort Screaming Symphony (1996) places a close second in delivering a best of both worlds scenario from touching upon the melody of the earlier Impellitteri material but also approaching the heaviness of that which ensued. Consider how Eye Of The Hurricane (1997) and aptly entitled Crunch (2000) hit hard with the best of them while also featuring choice variety in the form of the occasional ballad and instrumental. On Wicked Maiden (2009), however, Impellitteri focused on continuity by doing away with the ballads and instrumentals in favor of what I like to describe as a technical metal based heading.
Where does Venom, Impellitteri’s tenth full-length album on Victor Entertainment (Japan) and Frontiers Music SRL (Europe & North America) from the spring of 2015, rate? Initial impression is of a group maintaining the continuity of Wicked Maiden by again eschewing ballads and instrumentals in favor of ten no-nonsense and heavy hitting metal pieces. What I also hear is the most consistently fastest album from Impellitteri to date with much of the Venom material walking a fine line between barnburners such as “I’ll Be With You” and “Rat Race” (both Screaming Symphony) and “Beware Of The Devil” and “Speed Demon” (Crunch). While I hesitate to use the term ‘speed metal’, Venom specializes in fleet but short pieces (eight of the albums tracks come in between three to three and a half minutes) that serve to showcase guitarist extraordinaire Chris Impellitteri’s expeditious riffing and lightning like soloing.
Good news is how the album finds Chris not only remaining in top form but also continuing to hone and refine his skills, of which he has gained a well-earned reputation as one of the world’s fastest guitarists. A post at the Impellitteri Facebook page, for instance, reveals how he has “worked for 3 years to develop a new picking technique that allows me to shred and strike each note with greater clarity and attack!” Venom highlights these newfound capabilities in that the artists soloing now comes across that much more accelerated and aggressive, not that that from his past was in any way tepid! My thought is that the overall faster direction to Venom is an outgrowth of said new keyed up soloing direction. However, there is also no need for concern in that he remains ever the team player in that the Venom material is by no means a bunch of random riffs bookmarked around overextended soloing sessions. Rather, what I said in my Wicked Maiden review (90%) still holds true in that “(songs are) well structured in featuring notable choruses and hooks while allowing for complementary dose of killer lead guitar.”
In other words, there is depth and substance to the Venom songwriting! The albums title track proves becoming in this regard, relentless with its near speed metal based impetus as high flying riffs and unyielding double bass set the momentous tone. Several trademark falsettos from long-term front man Rob Rock help set things apart. Better known as the ‘voice of melodic metal’, Rock puts in the type of inspired performance throughout one would expect from his passionate and soaring vocal abilities. Venom continues to make evident that consistency remains one of his outstanding traits.
“Empire Of Lies” and “We Own The Night” give rise to similar breakneck tempos. Former is heavier of the two with its bruising guitar walls and hammer on driven lead guitar work (ranking with the albums best). The polished backing vocals that uphold the brisk refrain lend a lighter touch. Latter gives rise to an eighties edge, as a hard charging riff mentality and added use of vocal melodies play decisive roles. Captured in the process is a scintillating Dokken meets Stryper vibe.
Taking a mid-paced heading is “Nightmare”, one of the albums darker and more trenchant in which a brusque milieu combines with haunting overtones that pay tribute to the songs namesake. Am I out of line to suggest a slight nod to Alice Cooper is at hand? Also mid-paced in nature, “Face The Enemy” highlights an intricate flair as crunch heavy guitars lead the way through a landscape ranging from plodding bass guitar driven (credit James Pulli in this capacity) to that which is more tempered and melodic. I particularly enjoy the reserved stretch of guitar that gets the song underway. “Holding On” comes across every bit steadfast, dogged and biting from its weighty momentum and muscular feel to the assertive refrain. Equally notable is the classically influenced stretch of lead guitar.
The implacable “Domino Theory” represents a return to a more upbeat stance. The song challenges for albums most energetic, with a disposition approaching the casuist and low-end the non-stop relentless as Jon Detti stands out with his technical timekeeping abilities. Likewise, “Jehovah” proves a heavyset mauler, every bit animated and spry but also defined by Rock’s signature high-end vocal flavorings, and “Time Machine” Impellitteri’s tribute to Iron Maiden, as galloping riffs and propensity for the intricate lead the way. Albums best piece, particularly in light of its catchy chorus.
“Rise” represents another keyed up track, subtle as a punch to the jaw with its no frills disposition but also slightly predictable as another shorter and faster song in an album awash with material of similar capacity. Which leads to the lone constructive comment to offer in regards to Venom: Perhaps to add an element of variety a couple more mid-paced numbers in excess of four minutes could have been included to provide better balance with those in the three-minute range. Also, note the album is correspondingly a bit short in coming in at just 34 minutes (not that this should surprise in that early Impellitteri releases such as Answer To The Master and Screaming Symphony were of similar length). To be fair I wrote the review based upon the Japan release, which does not come with the pair of bonus tracks set to be part of the Europe and North American versions.
Quality production has always been an Impellitteri staple and Venom proves no exception. Rhythm guitar delivers the needed upfront edge, while room is made for guitar leads to cleanly stand out and low end to make a pronounced statement. The darker nature to the album artwork aligns with the aggressive musical stance at hand. Interesting how in the albums liner notes Chris Impellitteri thanks ‘Vivaldi and Mozart for inspiring my guitar playing on this record’ and Rob Rock ‘my Lord above for all He provides’.
No, Venom might not be a Christian album but any in which Rob Rock handles lyrics is going to be reflective of his faith. No exception here, with “Jehovah” standing out in this regard:
Rising from ashes, faith and fire
Giving me power to run the race
Out of the shadows, mercy and grace
Lift up the scriptures to show the way
There comes a brand new day
When you wake up from this crime
There’s nothing left to save
But the soul you left behind
As does “We Own The Night”:
We slay the stage at the hour of dark
When the creatures are coming forth
We cast a spell on the shadows edge
In a trance they’ll be wanting more
You’ll never know until you realize
We’re children of the Light
You’ll never know until you see the Light
It’s all happening here
“Empire Of Lies” touches upon End Time themes -
All hail to Caesar, the ruler of the world
So full of delusion, his arrogance unfurled
Empire of lies, I see you falling down
Empire of lies, you’re a king without a crown
Here comes the fire of justice
(to punish all evil and burn it down)
It’s raining down on your kingdom
(now the world will turn and Rome will burn)
- and “Domino Theory” current events:
Terrorists are moving in trying to heal the world
Fallen angels in disguise trying to win the pearl
There’s blood on their filthy hands
There’s dirt on their knees
There’s sand in their foolish eyes
This doctrine of death
The enemy is sneaking in, revolutionary war
Nothing left but anarchy and dying by the sword
As always, the strength to Impellittteri resides in its stellar lead guitarist and vocalist combination of Chris Impellitteri and Rob Rock. Venom does not disappoint in this capacity in continuing to find the duo in top form. Obviously, established fans of the group will find the album to their liking as should those into faster compositions approaching speed metal territory. No, Venom might not deliver variances similar to past Impellitteri albums but it proves no less able in terms of quality songwriting. In the end, let’s hope it is not another six long years before we again hear from Impellitteri!
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Venom” (3:05), “Empire Of Lies” (2:52), “We Own The Night” (3:32), “Nightmare” (4:01), “Face The Enemy” (4:35), “Domino Theory” (3:25), “Jehovah” (3:16), “Rise” (3:17), “Time Machine” (3:15), “Holding On” (3:31)
Rob Rock - Lead Vocals
Chris Impellitteri - Guitars
James Pulli - Bass
Jon Detti - Drums