Dealing in a similar vein of alternately brutal and melodic metal to Soilwork, Vinegar Hill hail from Austria. The band formed in 2007 and, since their formation, they have shared stages with the likes of Lamb of God, Mastadon, lacuna Coil and many more. The band’s third album, ‘Ghost flowers’ arrives courtesy of Art Gates Records and showcases a band who embrace the heavy, but clearly have ambitions beyond the narrow purview that extremity offers. The result is a shamelessly hook-filled album that alternates neatly between punishing metal riffage and pop-infused choruses which burrow deep into the subconscious without so much as a by-your-leave.
Making a good impression from the off, ‘the fortress above the sun’ demonstrates both the album’s strong production and the band’s tight, technical approach. Aside from Soilwork, elements of Trivium and In Flames abound and there’s no mistaking the band’s ambition amidst the shiny riffs and carefully honed vocals. Maintaining the taut pace, ‘Last piece of me’ pairs ferocious percussion with blistering riffs to good effect, the vocals delivered with a clarity and precision that falls somewhere between Matt Heafy and Jonathan Davis in terms of intonation. With its soaring chorus, it’s easy to see why the song was chosen as a single, although the same could be said of ‘sinner to be saint’ with its skittering synth intro and heavy, elastic riffing. A perfect example of the band’s commercial ambition, ‘sinner to be saint’ has clean vocals reminiscent of placebo set against airy, synth-augmented riffs, although it runs the risk of erring rather too far into the sort of uber-produced territory that can undermine a band’s heavy intentions. The album’s title track is another piece that is heavily infused with synth, whilst a highlight is delivered with the pulverising groove of ‘void’, a track that initially eschews studio trickery in favour of pure, bloody-minded belligerence, only to suddenly blindside the listener with a random diversion into symphonic metal.
As befits its title, ‘here with you’ is a shimmering, metallic belter that veers between mawkish sentiment and bombastic excess. It’s less successful than the more straight-forward rockers on the record, but at the same time it’s nice to see the band stretching their creative wings to deliver more than just a carbon copy of the bands that influenced them. Reminiscent, in places, of the late, lamented Five Point Oh, ‘here with you’ definitely has plenty of radio potential despite delivering some meaty riffs. Rather more red-blooded, ‘epiphany’ delivers the goods with its double -kick assault and carefully layered vocals although the female vocals feel ill-judged. A track with a strong In Flames vibe, ‘The shift of reasons’ is hugely enjoyable, if a little too in thrall to its influences, but it’s the prog-infused track ‘the pale conjurer’ that really impresses, showcasing a more diverse set of influences than might initially appear. The album concludes with ‘in carving memory’, a melancholy finale that incorporates trip-hop percussion, huge synth washes and somewhat incongruous black metal vocals. It builds to a suitably powerful crescendo as the track wears on and it’s another, typically ambitious example of the band’s multi-faceted approach to song arrangement.
Not an unimpressive album, ‘Ghost flowers’ often appears to be something of an homage to its influences, only for the band to yank the rug out from under the listener’s feet as they throw in some disparate element that is as wholly unexpected as it is welcome. Not every excursion is successful, but it’s good to see the band exploring a variety of influences and there’s no question that they’re doing a good job of carving out their own niche in a somewhat crowded genre. Ultimately, there are those who will find the band’s commercial aspirations somewhat off-putting in places, but where Vinegar Hill choose to head off the beaten path, there is much to enjoy in this record. 7