2016: A Vektor Odyssey
There’s a long-running debate in the metal community that’s been raging on for years: does down-tuning the instruments make the music heavier? This debate has become even more prolific in the age of djent as eight and nine string guitars reach a range so low they can make the bass obsolete. Down-tuning has been a staple of heavy metal since Tony Iommi tuned his guitar down to C# to help cope with the loss of his fingertips.
The true answer to the down-tune debate really lies somewhere around “it depends.” What truly matters is the context of the music and the songwriting skill of the composer. The greatest musicians use down-tuning as a way to flavor their music, but they could easily survive as songwriters without it. Solid compositional skills are key, and it’s why in this brave new world of djent, the debate is still important to have. Although certainly not universally true, there is still a sad truth that there are plenty of working musicians using down-tuning as a substitute for good songwriting, and there is always a need for bands to shake things up in order to set an example for young musicians everywhere.
So stepping in to fill that void is a band like Vektor, a science-fiction themed progressive thrash metal band (yes, that exists) from Tempe, Arizona. If you’re not already familiar with Vektor, then there’s one other important aspect about them you should know: they are one of the few bands to tune themselves up. Yes, Vektor tunes their instruments from Standard E tuning up a half step to F.
Why is this important? Well, in the case of Vektor’s music, it isn’t really. Vektor’s music stands on its own merit, and they certainly don’t need any “hey-everyone-we-tune-our-guitars-up-to-F” gimmick to get people interested in their music. But it’s important because in an age of down-tuning madness, Vektor is solid proof that musicians don’t need down-tuning to be heavy, they just need to know what makes music heavy.
Terminal Redux is actually only Vektor’s third full-length release, their previous record being 2011’s Outer Isolation. This latest release actually serves as a concept album follow-up to Outer Isolation, telling a science-fiction epic of an experimental test subject and his rise to power under the authoritarian rule of the Cygnus Regime. If that’s already sounding like a bit too much to follow, don’t worry. Like all good concept albums, the music manages to tell the story on its own, even when guitarist/vocalist David DiSanto’s high-pitched shrieking can be a little too difficult to understand.
This record has the speed and adrenaline of old-school thrash but brings it with it the sophistication and musicianship of prog. Terminal Redux pummels not just with aggression, but with shred-tastic riffs, sophisticated guitar harmonies, and innovative songwriting. The album opens up with “Charging the Void,” which doesn’t waste any time thrusting the listener right into an accelerated adrenaline rush. But like the best thrash giants, Vektor understands the importance of subtly and dynamics, as they use their songwriting prowess to take the listener on a journey and not just on a chaotic high-speed chase. With a runtime of over nine minutes for the opening track, Vektor manages to insert a lot of their best progressive elements before the song is even over, including the addition of a vocal choir (which is utilized masterfully throughout the album to add that extra operatic feel).
The album only continues to elaborate on its versatility as it goes on, with each track displaying its own character and personality. Whether it’s the relentless aural onslaught of “LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease),” the shreddy goodness of “Pteropticon” or the eccentric diversity of “Collapse,” every track comes out with its own story to tell. The album’s epic 13-minute closer “Recharging the Void” is forced to handle the difficult task of closing out such an epic record, and it does so with the musical virtuosity and poignant grace that audiences can expect from a band like Vektor. Moving between captivating prog-metal grandiosity to acoustic-style ballads, this is a reminder that this is not just a song, it’s a journey, and it serves as a fitting end to what may be one of the best metal albums of the year. With a runtime of over 70 minutes, Terminal Redux still leaves a craving for more.
What is extremely important to remember is that, despite their thrash metal roots, Vektor is not just an ‘80s throwback band. Terminal Redux is solid proof that Vektor is helping to carry the metal genre forward. This isn’t a band stuck in the past, it’s a band that’s breathing entirely new life into it, and they’re doing so at a time where metal needs it the most. Vektor is setting a higher bar for a new generation of musicians to live up to, and because of them the future of metal is starting to look very, very bright.