Ooh, this one’s a lot of fun. The name Night Viper might ring a bell, as the Gothenburg, Sweden-based quintet released a well-received self-titled debut album in 2015. With Exterminator, however, the band have definitely garnered a buzz in the heavy metal underground. In the last couple of weeks – after I decided to review the album, I might add – I kept reading glowing accounts of the record at various review sites and message boards. The band’s label, Listenable Records, offers the following blurb: “Stunning incisive heavy thrash metal with ‘Kill Em All’ attitude.” Not sure I agree fully with that description, but the “stunning” part is absolutely on target, so let’s go in for a closer look.
Night Viper are old-school heavy metal to the max, in terms of performances, energy, production, songwriting, the whole package. There’s nothing polished or pristine here, just musty, dusty vibes hearkening back to the formative days of our beloved music. Yeah, I know that’s a popular style these days, but the difference is that Night Viper have managed to carve out their own musical identity while remaining faithful to their mighty forebears. No, contrary to what Listenable Records says, Exterminator is not a thrash album, but guitarists Thomas Sutton and Johan Frick (who also plays in the excellent Lethal Steel) do lay down some wicked early Hetfield/Mustaine-inspired crunchy speed riffage on many songs (see “Summon the Dead” or the sub-2:00 “Going Down” for example), complete with that raw early ‘80s buzzsaw tone. But Night Viper are hardly a one-dimensional act, showing a flair for midtempo bluesy NWOBHM (“On the Run”) and an ability to construct a brilliant multipart, slowly building epic (“All That Remains”) that goes from gentle acoustic intro to pedal-to-the-metal ripping speed with nary a stutter or a misfire. Wow! There’s enough variation in the songwriting and tempos to maintain the listener’s attention throughout the 10-song, 42-minute running time, while remaining firmly within the defiantly, proudly old-fashioned construct. And everything Night Viper touches turns to gold, as the songs are quite strong from top to bottom. Exterminator is the kind of album that you can’t wait to end so you can hit “play” and relive the whole killer experience again.
A critical component of Night Viper’s sound is the voice of Sofie Lee Johansson, and man she really sells the material. Johansson belts out a bluesy rock/metal midrange that is dripping with attitude and energy, and carrying just enough whiskey-soaked grit to mesh with the greasy, grimy rhythm section. A good point of comparison for Johansson’s voice would be Deborah Levine from the outstanding Lady Beast. If those crushing Sutton/Frick riffs don’t convince you (and they should), then Johansson’s performance is likely to seal the deal. More generally, Exterminator should go down a storm with fans of bands like Christian Mistress, Hell Fire or Savage Master, as well as the aforementioned Lady Beast. This is well-written traditional heavy metal played with heart, intensity and ass-kicking energy. Give it a listen. Night Viper are doing it right.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~