(DGR gets Raunchy… and he wrote this review. Your humble editor made a few intrusions in italics.)
It’s time to get a little silly don’t you think? We’ve covered a whole lot of really heavy shit over the past few weeks. It feels like we’ve covered a billion death metal bands and ground a million lists to dust. We’ve been in the murk-covered swamps of gore that metal comes from for far too long, and it’s time to lighten shit up around here. And personally, I feel like I’ve done enough with my year-end list, helping out with infectious song nominations, and sharing groups like Unbeheld out there that it’s time to swing the pendulum back in the other direction. This site needs equilibrium — we can’t let people actually think we’re going to take our own name seriously, now can we?
Now, we could go in depth with what the fuck Myke Terry’s been up to lately — given that the man is partially responsible for the name of this site — but that feels a little uncouth. Instead, I propose we check back in with the guys in Raunchy.
More than a year ago I started my only real contribution to a series for the site, a “higher criticism” feature that began as a sort of joking half-take on a whole bunch of Raunchy albums [the last installment of which is here]. It was a feature partially proposed to me on a dare by other NCS staff, because over the years the band’s name has made them the unfortunate butt of a few jokes and their sound, which combines a hefty dose of pop music with the more modern metal scene, has been one that could turn off people in our usual audience. This is how you wind up with a bunch of people sitting around a table going, “Let’s make the new guy do a Raunchy discog run.”
I approached the task with what I felt was a fairly open mind. I had never heard the band’s music before. Because of their name, I just wrote them off as “not my thing” and moved on to the next band — no real virulent flames of hatred or the sort of bile usually reserved to the people who feel like they have some sort of sworn duty to go out and rage against bands perceived to be “destroying the metal scene”. I knew the group had never made any compromises in their sound, that by and large they had become something of an institution in that they were five albums deep when this batch of idiots assigned the project to me, and that our own writer Andy swore up and down that Confusion Bay — the group’s second disc — was actually pretty good.
In short, this was my only contribution to said feature, and now much later I find myself with knowledge of the band’s whole discography, whether I want to own up to it or not. I felt in part that I had done wrong by the band, though, because even though I had come out of most of their albums with positive thoughts (and considered the others as either a bemusing trip or a tad generic) the whole thing had started by sharing some laughs over a few beers and a soda. Also, in writing this article I feel like I’m updating the whole saga — something that I would love to see happen more often on this site as bands release albums past the end of a feature, or in some cases as an update to The Synn Report.
You’ll note that I’ve put the “Criticism” in super-sarcastic airquotes this time. It happened for a few reasons, one being that the “Higher Criticism” feature seems to be deader than a Ramsey child, and the other being that I really have nothing to critique this time. I’m also not doing this disc as a stream of consciousness, as I tried with the others. I’ve listened to this album a bunch, and therefore feel like I can give it context and provide a proper review.
When I last touched base with Raunchy, it was in the interim between the group’s last album, A Discord Electric, and this new one. At the end of my review of A Discord Electric, I noted that the group had long held a pretty stable lineup and that it had fairly recently experienced a shift at the vocals front — with long-time frontman Kasper Thomsen bowing out to pursue other avenues (like fronting The Arcane Order, who have been a more traditional melo-death band, albeit with some epic-length songs as their 2014 promo showed) and being replaced by former HAARP Machine vocalist Mike Semesky. I also expressed the sentiment that although I had no idea where Raunchy were going in the future, I hoped it would play out well for them, if only because I had made them the subject of a half-joking series of articles (with which they probably never even crossed paths) [they did cross paths with it, and even re-posted it on their Facebook page!].
In late 2014, Raunchy returned with a new album — seemingly out of nowhere; I believe the time between single-reveal and album-release was a little under a month. The new one is called Vices. Virtues. Visions., and my curiosity got the better of me, which is why you’re now looking at this here review. What initially started as a lark and a quick, “Heh, this might be funny to go back to”, left me impressed. For being the pop album that it is, Vices. Virtues. Visions. is a disc that has actually won me over, at least enough that I’m willing to talk about it here.
One of the things we need to get right out in the open is that Vices. Virtues. Visions. is still a Raunchy disc. If you don’t know what that means, you’re in for a shock. The group are a hybrid band, one that for over a decade now has created a combination of electronic, heavy metal, pop, melodeath, and metalcore. You’ll probably know by the description whether or not you’re curious, or if it’s time to completely check out. I was probably predestined to find at least something to like; after the discog run, I found I had enjoyed three of the group’s discs, so in some sense I’m probably the best-qualified (term used super-loosely) to cover Vices. Vices. Virtues. Visions. [at least at this site].
The album begins with the song “Eyes Of A Storm”, which itself begins with a slow piano build before settling into a hammering up-and-down groove riff. It’s a pretty heavy starting point before the band shift into clean-singing mode, one that comes up throughout Vices. and a mode for which Raunchy show much fondness in their songwriting this time around — where the beat takes on a swinging standard and becomes very synth-driven, basically tailored for dancing, as the melody bounces back and forth. But, Vices. also has some of the heaviest stuff Raunchy have ever written as well, meaning that the whole disc bounces between two very different styles. The band’s mission is to wrench them together, and most of the time on Vices. it works in their favor.
“Eyes Of A Storm” is a good song, but the really enjoyable material comes in tracks two through ten on this album, with some tunes peaking really high and some coming off a little goofy. If there’s one thing I can never fault the band for, it is that they’ve always stuck to their guns and come off earnest about their brand of metal. They take on a lot of what becomes popular in the metal scene, but it always happens on the very fringes of their sound. The core of the band has remained largely the same since they really came into their own on Confusion Bay.
The second track, and one that Raunchy chose to share with the public first, “Truth Taker”, I have found to be a far better melding of their electronica-heavy sound and heavy metal side into one track. “Truth Taker” is one of the album’s most catchy songs, even though I remain convinced that I’ve heard the chorus in another song — it’s one I keep coming back to. It does play with the oft-used duality of having a super-heavy section up front, as new vocalist Mike Semesky earns his keep here (and throughout the disc) with a distinctive high scream while long-time synth player Jeppe Christensen handles most of the cleans. The two trade off, of course, and at times even tag-team a section; at those points they come through as a force of a vocal duo.
Songs like “Anasthesia Throne”, “I, Avarice”, and “Digital Dreamer” are where things get really interesting for the band, because those are the ones in which the group actually gets really heavy. Since they’re kind of free of boundaries, I’ve found that Raunchy tend to pack in a couple of really heavy songs in the middle of their albums, and Vices. Virtues. Visions. keeps the trend going.
“Digital Dreamer” is the first of the three really heavy ones and hits right after “Truth Taker” with a combination of futurism and cyberpunk lyrical inspiration. As in the other two really heavy songs I mentioned, the band picks up an intensely fast pace. I will fully own up to it, time and time again, that I enjoy when bands pick up the speed. The quick one-two-three-four rhythm of “Digital Dreamer” is one of those times. The song also has a super-strong hook when it comes to the lines that constitute the chorus, “Wake up, your dream is digital”.
“Anasthesia Throne” is probably the best modern In Flames song out there, if In Flames’ past two albums are anything to go by. Not to sound reductive, I mean that as a huge compliment. The song contains a twin-guitar lead and a Gothenburg melo-death riff that can hold with the best of them. I feel like if In Flames are going to toe the line of being a synth-heavy, groove metal band they should really just go all in. Raunchy have found the way to make a fast melo-death song with heavy synth and they do it way better than In Flames are now.
“I, Avarice” is another highlight for its driving guitar part, as well as its mostly heavy songwriting — but what really drew me to that song is its sudden in-the-middle guitar solo that sees the band just shredding like there is no tomorrow. Songs like these three, as well as most of the album, have the effect of making Raunchy feel a little scrappy — like they have something to prove, knowing full well that Vices. was going to hit toward the end of the year and as a bit of a dark-horse release.
Even though it’s the band’s sixth album, Vices. Virtues. Visions. encompasses some of Raunchy’s best songwriting to date. They have effectively modernized their sound without biting too hard into current trends — save for the twinkle-guitar djent-heavy last track — and have managed to remain heavy while also leaning hard on their electronica and pop sides. Naturally, this means that Raunchy are light fare compared to what usually pops up on NCS, but in some ways, especially after the full discography run I did, it’s cool to see Raunchy pulling out all stops and just gunning for it this go-around.
In a nutshell, Vices. is a disc of polar opposites, containing the group’s heaviest songwriting that they’ve done, as well as their lightest and most dance-heavy chorus work. But they really have found a way to make the interplay between the two work, and the result is a collection that includes some really catchy metal songs.
What started as a joking curiosity to look into has become a constant spin, and I will own up to this being my pop disc of the past couple of months. It’s what I go to when I get a little burned out on the grim and the dark, by essentially marching in the direction of a candy rave going head-on with a modern melodeath band. Yes, it’s still Raunchy, and if you’ve had any history with the band then you’ll know by now if the name alone is enough to turn you off or pull you in. But if you’ve enjoyed this band before, then this disc is easily worth the trip. It manages to dodge feeling derivative of the band’s earlier works while also feeling punchy. They’ve managed to take their formula and come up with an especially good blend of it this time. As my follow-up to a long-finished feature, it’s nice to say that the band are currently on a high note.
Vices. Virtues. Visions. is out now in Europe on Massacre Records. It has a U.S. release date of January 20 and will be available on Amazon and iTunes.