Speed Metal from Norway
Black Viper burst out onto the scene in early 2016, determined to join the fray as yet another traditional metal (using this term broadly) band named after the venomous family of snakes. The band certainly lived up to their name with their very first offering, 2016’s demo titled Storming with Vengeance. Sixteen minutes of pure speed metal attack with plenty of bite, the Black Viper demo certainly impressed me. There were some small flaws, but one very important thing was clear – these guys could riff. This should have come at no surprise – Black Viper are a side project formed by Deathhammer member Cato Stormoen aka Sadomancer and feature Arild M. Torp of Nekromantheon and Obliteration on guitars. Just two years after their triumphant first offering, Black Viper are ready to unleash their debut, Hellions of Fire, on the metal world.
I was stoked to say the least when I heard that Black Viper were coming out with a full length so quickly after their demo. Having signed to High Roller Records, there was a very high likelihood that the album was going to be an absolute banger. Once more details were released about Hellions of Fire, I became concerned. There were two clear red flags to me; 1) almost half of the tracks appeared on the demo, 2) there were several 7+ minute songs. Rerecording such a high number of tracks is usually an indicator of a rushed or poorly planned album and it’s very difficult for such a fast paced band to make compelling songs at that length. By the end of my first listen of Hellions of Fire, all of my concerns dissolved and it became very apparent that this album was everything I expected it to be and even more.
Storming with Vengeance brought us a straight-forward and aggressive speed metal barrage reminiscent of the classic Canadian duo Razor and Exciter. Hellions of Fire shows a matured direction and the incorporation of additional influences. I hear a healthy amount of US power metal mixed with the aggressive speed metal that Black Viper so masterfully displayed on their demo. Fans of the masters of metal, Agent Steel, should be salivating at that description. There’s enough changes in the rerecorded demo tracks to keep them interesting and they sound wonderful on the upgraded production that the album received.
As I alluded to previously, there are three tracks clocking in over seven minutes long and the overall track list is only seven songs. Given Black Viper’s speed metal sound, this isn’t easy at all to pull off yet they clearly manage to do so here. These epics showcase the band’s maturity and songwriting capabilities. The longer songs show more variety in sounds and structure, incorporating a healthy amount of US style power to the mix to keep them engaging. The old school, but notably clear, style of production further works to bring out the speed metal sound that Black Viper are going for.
There isn’t one single highlight to point out on this album. It is just one cohesive package of high quality metal. Black Viper’s guitarist, Arild M. Torp, is a member of Nekromantheon and Obliteration who play thrash and death metal respectively. He has shown himself extremely capable of writing riffs across a variety of genres and it’s no exception here. Hellions of Fire is yet another notch in Torp’s belt as he proves himself to be one of the most talented and versatile guitarists around. Riff after riff, blazing solo after blazing solo, the guitars never let up. Cato’s drumming is simply excellent. The drum tone is full and organic, helping to compliment Torp’s guitar riffs and Marchant’s bass. Salvador Armijo is a bare-bones, no frill style of vocalist. He has a lot of edge to his vocal lines and provides a perfect narration to the hellfire being unleashed by the rest of the band.
Hellions of Fire is a step-up from the demo in every way possible. There’s a fair number of bands that don’t make the transition from demo to album as elegantly as they should – either the production doesn’t improve the way it should or the songwriting magic disappears. Black Viper make the transition as smoothly as you could possibly hope. Hellions of Fire is a mighty debut. It’s an exercise in the old school with the band’s unique character and artistic voice blended in to create what is undoubtedly one of the year’s best albums. Black Viper should be proud of what they’ve done here.
Album Rating: 91/100
Favorite Track: Hellions of Fire