A few years back, a solo project with an odd name released its rock solid debut album. That project is called The Vicious Head Society (which I call VHS). After what seems like a long time (4 years), that artist has returned with a new album called Extinction Level Event. My question going into this was whether or not VHS could continue the quality of the debut, and I’m happy to say that this record is a significant leap above the first offering. The new album released on May 28th.
VHS comes to us from Ireland. The artist behind the name is guitarist Graham Keane, and an excellent guitarist he is, but you will also hear him on synth/keys on this album. Additionally, you will hear Nahuel Ramos on synth, Klemen Markelj on drums, Pat Byrne and Matheus Manente on bass, Nathan Maxx on vocals, and Andy Ennis on harsh vox. Chris Brooks guests on one guitar solo and Shelley Weiss guests on violin, as well.
This is pureblooded, unadulterated progressive metal, to put it simply. Graham doesn’t pretend to be inventing new genres or reinventing metal as we know it. This is a progressive metal album, through and through. That means crazy guitar work, sweeping keys, strong melodies, classic rock vocals, and, for this album, it also means a few instances of guttural harsh vox. The quality is very high across the board as far as performances, but I think the writing is even stronger.
That is exactly what Graham has going for him: writing and composition. This is a concept album, obviously influenced by the recent pandemic, and the feelings I get from the story are ones of crumbling powers-that-be, tribulation, and rebirth. From the cover art itself, you can see that the long-necessary fall of an old world is at hand. Graham’s writing here is really, really good, so much so that the ending, though actually sad, is somehow inspiring still. The story is engaging, abstract, and emotional. I love the interplay between the clean and harsh vox, too, and how this furthers the story-telling.
The compositional skills here are off the charts, though. It seems like every single track has something that sets it apart, whether that be a vivid melody, an extra layer of instrumentation, or a particularly good riff. Each song has its own identify from the very first listen, which is itself quite impressive. And, honestly, I don’t think I’ve heard such a sprawling progressive metal sound yet this year.
The album opens with a gutsy move: a 10-minute instrumental track. And the song is great, featuring plenty of melodic space and fiery guitar work. The album ends with a track called “Hymn of Creation”, and this is very different than the opener. It is a heavier song with plenty of harsh vox, and the last half reminds me of Pain of Salvation’s “Vocari Dei” in that it includes various voices offering a human element to this entire affair. It is an effective closing.
The songs in between are even better. My favorites are “The Signal” for its synthetic sound and single-worthy catchiness; “Yp138” for being a wicked instrumental that Dream Theater could have produced in the early 90s; “On a Silver Thread” for its vibrant violin and glorious groove; and “Absolution” for having the best core melody of the record. Those last two are particularly strong. “On a Silver Thread” sounds like it could be in a film, actually, with its sweet violin notes and cinematic qualities. “Absolution” grows more and more on me, though, with its amazing synth lines and emotional vocals.
Graham’s hard work has paid off. Extinction Level Event is surely going to be one of the best prog metal albums of 2021, and its concept is fully realized and maturely executed. Everything about this record is better than the debut: literally everything. VHS deserves more attention, and I think this is just the album to grant that.
Find The Vicious Head Society online: