Like other venerable but traditional death metal bands (say, Malevolent Creation and Bolt Thrower), Poland's Vader just never flew over my radar -- I wasn't yet under the thrall of Vader in the band's mid-90s heyday, and by the time their Polish descendants Decapitated had the opportunity to turn my ears back to the source, I'd already moved on to less conservative forms of death metal. But while I may be less qualified to cover XXV than any other album I've reviewed here on Cerebral Metalhead, I'm also part of its target audience. Who else but Vader neophytes could possibly benefit from a two-disc smorgasbord of re-recorded tracks from throughout the band's career?
Even without knowing the originals, I'm skeptical of any project that includes re-recordings of songs originally released just four years ago ("Dark Transmissions" first appeared on The Beast, from 2004). On the flipside, longtime Vader fans could justifiably bitch and moan about how the original, rawer recordings of the earlier material preserve the ferocity of the music much better than the clean production jobs on XXV. Well ya know what? Fuck 'em all. Every song on XXV sounds fantastic fidelity-wise, and just raw enough to shred that Iron Curtain to bits.
Early tracks "Final Massacre" and "Chaos" (from 1989's Necrolust and 1990's Morbid Reich demos, respectively) find Vader converting the ubiquitous Slayer influence into something more mechanical and conventionally death metal. Blastbeats are prevalent, but more importantly, there's a groove-centric rigidity that seeps into Vader's songs, uncommon to death metal from the late 80s. That rhythmic precision becomes ever more pronounced as the band gets older -- a track like "Kingdom" fashions a huge, mid-tempo groove out of the tension between robotic tremolo guitar and open space. Vocalist/guitarist Piotr Wiwczarek splits the difference between the cookie growl and Akerfeldt roar, handily earning my vote for frontman of the next Bloodbath album (s'pose he'd have to pledge fealty to Sweden first).
New ground? To these ears, there's little of it in the last ten years' worth at least of material here, but of course that's not the point. I'm gonna remember XXV as the release that kicked my ass to start listening to Vader.
A priest, a rabbi and a Polish death metal band walk into a bar at Vader's official website...