Forged in the steel furnaces of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, six years ago, Vermithrax have slowly, steadily been making a name for themselves ever since. The band’s strengths include their incendiary live performances, their high degree of technical proficiency, and their decidedly blue-collar approach to their craft. It also helps that Vermithrax are viciously, relentlessly heavy, melding the bludgeoning intensity of thrash with a melodic (and sometimes quirky) flair, and somehow counterbalancing both the new and old schools of heavy metal. Guitarist Scott Haggerty boasts a seemingly limitless arsenal of razor-sharp riffs and dazzling solos, and Chris Roy ties everything together with a voice that goes from gruff bellow to high-pitched rasp, showcasing a dramatic character that recalls the likes of Bruce Hall (Agent Steel/Psychosis), Chuck Billy and especially the late, great Warrel Dane in spots. Vermithrax don’t really sound like anyone else, but listening to them puts me in mind of everything from Nevermore and Sanctuary to recent Exodus to Psychosis to even the prog/thrash of Prototype.
Today, Vermithrax are on the cusp of releasing their second EP, a five-track, 25-minute affair entitled Vol. II: Imperium Draconus. It’s an impressive piece of work, with all facets of the band’s sonic attack on full display. Opener “The Keys” is approximately 30 seconds of acoustic guitar noodling, setting the stage in the way that Metallica did back in the Ride the Lightning / Master of Puppets days. The quiet acoustic strumming quickly gives way to the unabashed monster that is “Enoch,” a six-minute tour de force that encapsulates everything I love about Vermithrax. “Enoch” begins with a haunting melodic build-up before a fiery tornado of a lead break from Haggerty kicks the band into high gear. The song moves seamlessly from thrashy punishment in the verses to a hymn-like, marching refrain. Roy’s vocals are particularly effective here, as he cries out, “We must manifest ourselves!” Just a killer track all the way around, guaranteed to snap necks worldwide. Next up is “Crucified by Hate,” a malevolent midtempo stomp where the guitarwork once again shines and Roy scares the hell out of you by singing about “when the blood rains down.” The intensity and heaviness of Vermithrax’s attack don’t let up on the oddly titled “Road to Athkatla,” with its shifting tempos and Roy straining for the highest end of his range in the chorus. (I’ll confess I had to run a Google search to learn that Athkatla is a fictional city in the Dungeons & Dragons world.) The EP ends on a high note with an eight-minute Flotsam & Jetsam medley, merging “Hammerhead” and “Hard on You” in a manner that is guaranteed to delight devotees of the Arizona thrash kings. The medley is extremely well done, and kudos to Vermithrax for picking two of Flotsam’s best songs for this endeavor and absolutely nailing them. Flotz ‘til Death!!!
There are so many great bands from Pittsburgh: Lady Beast, Argus, Icarus Witch, and Blackfinger all immediately come to mind. Add Vermithrax to the list. No, they’re not a nostalgic, purely old-school band, but they have one foot in the past and the other squarely in the present as they honor the thrash masters of the ‘80s while simultaneously attempting to move the genre forward into the now. There’s a lot of creativity at work on Vol II: Imperium Draconus. Vermithrax deserves your support. And this EP is only the beginning. The band have amassed a stockpile of 14 new songs for future releases. Vermithrax are inspired, they’re driven, and they’re heavy as hell. Give ‘em a listen, won’t you? Better yet, support their Kickstarter campaign by preordering this EP. Find details at www.kickstarter.com/projects/vermithrax/vermithrax-ltd-ed-hand-numbered-ep-cd-preorder-pac
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~