Friday, April 19, 2013

Grant's Tomb: DHT's Vi-Ops "Album of the Year"

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present you with my 2013 Album of the Year: Dead Horse Trauma’s “Vi-Ops.” It’s a smooth and complex beast of a record that has such a high replayability I’m almost in complete shock that it’s a local band. Am I biased? Yes, but it’s that bias that gives me the ability to actually critique this album for what it is. I’ve had nearly two weeks with it, to soak it in, digest it and spit it back out.  

When I first reviewed Dead Horse Trauma’s 2011 release “Tellus Hodiernus Caducus,” my only real complaint regarding the disc was the mix. It felt thin to me and if memory serves me correct I compared it to “As the Palaces Burn” by Lamb of God. Well, I’m not so naïve as to think that Dead Horse Trauma actually listened to me, much less care what I think, but holy crap, their new album “Vi-Ops” is like a giant slap in the face. It is such a massive sounding record that if it were a physical being it would certainly leave a crater the size of a mammoth in its wake. Vi-Ops is the album that Dead Horse Trauma have been striving for since their inception back in 2006.

The lyrics on this record show how far
Eric Davidson has come as a writer.

The album proper starts of with the thunderous “Murder of Crows,” with its snarling and dark electronic intro that gives way to the one-two punch from the string section. Enter vocalist Eric Davidson. His vocal delivery is superb on this record and I wouldn’t be surprised if something along the lines of “Fuck it, big chorus on every damn song!” left his lips at one point while penning the lyrics. The lyrics on this record show how far Davidson has come as a writer, yeah he's still pissed but where as on past releases he directed his anger at specific individuals, the album is both conceptual and deep, speaking of the evils of government corruption and mass media’s distortion of truth. Sure, that’s well tread ground, but where he excels is where so many others have failed or sputtered out. His ability to craft a story that is meaningful yet ambiguous enough for the listener to get caught up in is what separates him from the rest. Try typing in the song titles into a search engine, see what you come up with. It’s almost like he is daring the listener to dig deeper. 

The second track “The Head of the Snake” is sure to be a bruiser in the live setting. Guitarist Seth Peters comes in with a chugga-chug but then throws the listener a curve ball and takes off in the opposite direction just when the listener start to bang their head. The breakdown at the end of this song is by far the finest he has composed, leaving just enough space to catch a gasp of air before you are pounded into submission. Another noticeable aspect of his playing is the introduction of lead guitar work on nearly every song encompassing this album, something that the band needed to do to really set them apart from the pack. You will be humming those guitar melodies all day long. Indeed, the use of space on this record is crucial. See the lead off track “Reckoning Day.” It stomps and strides with absolute conviction only a band as sure of itself as Dead Horse is could do. They pull it off flawlessly and just after the first chorus is complete-a perfect example of “sing-a-long” if the band ever had one-the action breaks up for just enough time to bring in the goth sounding synths.

Not only is Jason Handy their beat machine, but he is also
the guy responsible for the band's graphic designs

Newly promoted sampler Taylor “Made” Guy (he was their lighting dude on the last two releases) really shines on this album. The chorus…well, practically the entire song “Mocking Bird” really gives him ample opportunity to flex his digital muscles, and its done with such taste and care. Vi-Ops has a lot of ear candy, but it is just so flawlessly executed and placed at just the right moments at just the right time you probably won’t even notice it. Speaking of “Mocking Bird,” what an epic ending; the band really played with dynamics on this album. The loudest parts are loud but what’s even more impressive is how deafening the quiet moments are.

This album marks the recording debut of bassist BJ Forst (the previous two albums where handled by “Bad” Brad Koehler) and he provides that all too over-looked low end stomp. His playing is precise and isn’t over the top. Coupled with drummer Jason Handy, they make for such a tight rhythm section you would think they have formed some symbiotic relationship, playing off each others strengths and keeping the songs moving forward. 

The last song on the record, “Daffodils,” exemplifies everything that is great about this record and is the perfect ending to the disc. Its groove-heavy verses lead to that big open chorus where Davidson calls out the nay-sayers for what they are, just plain jealous. 

Click to enlarge
Because I’m an artwork guy (yeah, I still buy cd’s), I have to bring this up. The album art, although it’s sparse, is awesome and totally sets the appropriate tone for the record. Not only is Handy their beat machine, but he is also the guy responsible for the graphic designs. Those awesome t-shirts at their merch table? He designed those. That excellent music video for “Reckoning Day?” He was behind that one as well. 

Seriously, I can’t find fault with the album, as much as I’d like to say “they could have done x and y better,” I can’t find it (maybe a lyric book?). It’s a short release, there’s no doubt about that, but its brevity is one of its strong points. It leaves the band with absolutely no room for filler (even the two interlude/intermission tracks are completely necessary for the overall cohesiveness of the album). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s a perfect album, simply put. It will be interesting to see where the band goes with their next release, which I’m told they are already in pre-production for. This band has yet to plateau, and Vi-Ops is certainly a triumph.

Dead Horse Trauma will be playing their cd release party @ Wooly’s in Des Moines IA on 4/20/2013 with Cirrus Minor, Nuisance, and Pinwheel. Why don’t you go hit them up on Facebook?

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