It is hard to describe the excitement of waking up to a en email with a link that allows you to download a new piece of madness that is available for the enjoyment of a very limited pair of ears. The thrill was mainly due the fact that Vulture Industries’ previous release, The Tower, has instantly become what I call an obsession – an album played over and over again, filled with songs that had so much oddity and coolness to offer that I’d end up playing that song on repeat for days. And already after a couple of listen I feel like the 2017 release, ‘Stranger Times’, seems to be following the same path, especially since it it doesn’t really aim at brining a lot of difference from the previous album, but rather fine tune the lessons learned in the past.

The band is now signed with Season of Mist and will release the fan-funded album worldwide on September 22nd, followed by a tour spread throughout autumn, initially with some dates in Norway and later on with dates around European cities. Do your best to attend at least one of these shows. Their live performance is what instantly made me a Vulture Industries fanatic and for me it’s surely one of the most genuine and full of passion shows out there. Mainly with improvised props which might as well be anyone in the audience. The fact that on ‘Stranger Times’ one can easily spot a level up in all sorts of quality aspects of a musical release, will hopefully spice up to the quality of the concerts.

Before I try to make some comments on the new album using my own words, I will quote this statement made by the vocalist, Bjørnar E. Nilsen and if you do not like to read much, you can as well just stop after it since it is a very accurate summary of the whole musical journey:

"Continuing along the path that we started to explore on ‘The Tower’, I proudly believe ‘Stranger Times’ to be standing out as a defining work for us. It bridges the gap between styles that we have touched upon in the past, while at the same time expands our scope and includes a more solid dose of rock in the mix. To me, it represents our most ‘solid’ album to date and is clearly the best produced one. I am curious to see how our fans will react, but being the kind and intelligent persons that they are, we actually expect a lot of love… and maybe a bit of trash just to remind us that we are mere mortals."
It surely sums up the listening experience so far: the album surely has a fantastic production and it is a joy to the ears in the way everything is put in balance. The collaboration between Bjørnar and Edmond Karban (DorDeDuh, Sunset in the 12th House, ex-Negura Bunget) has led to a great final product, with mastering touches by Chris Sansom at Propeller Mastering/Oslo – according to the album info. The final result is the very distinctive sound of Vulture Industries – a good bunch of bizarre experiments which they have learned to arrange in fantastic melodies that reveal tons of hidden elements and emotions with each spin. There’s darkness, there’s catchiness, there’s cheesiness, there’s a bunch of choruses and backing vocals – longer and more mature than on older albums, there’s experimenting, there’s this beautiful guitar sadness or ‘laziness’ (how I like to call it, but I mean it as a pleasant kind of lazy), there’s the same old wittiness in the lyrics, basically everything that makes a Vulture Industries song sound like Vulture Industries. Yet, there’s newly tailored coats to make this album a self standing solid and compelling new release, that has its own personality. Afterall, the band took 4 years since their previous album, ‘The Tower’, and if that’s the time needed to put together another soundtrack of the weirdness we all live in, so be it. The final result is very rewarding.

Right from the first song, ‘Tales of Woe’, one can notice the fresh ideas in the way the band is handling the backing vocals and choruses and the part starting at 2:50 is a perfect example of how skilled the musicians are in building a melody of very repetitive elements that slowly become something massive which sticks to your senses and makes you very confused when it all ends up so abruptly. Luckily, the confusion is quickly replaced by awe as the intro part of ‘As the World Burns’ is such a beautiful vocal piece with a Tom Waits’ish touch and pretty short guitar bits – that would be swiftly used along the whole song to accompany the ending of each verse. The song has already been released together with a captivating video made by the band’s ‘6th member’, Costin Chioreanu, the skilled visual artist who is, once again, also responsible for the album artwork. Costin has put together some very intriguing drawings for previous collaborations with Vulture Industries and I can’t wait to get my hands on the actual album so I can one again look at those many details and make up my own stories of the songs and their meanings. You can watch the video yourselves here and get your own opinion on its level of refinement:

‘Strangers’ is a song guesting Herbrand Larsen (ex-Enslaved) on keyboard and Hans Marius Andersen on trumpet (he’s also present on the next song ‘The Beacon’). Both ‘Strangers’ and ‘The Beacon’ set a slower pace to allow the expression of newly acquired singing skills (I can even hear that the band has been on tour with Leprous), and, once again, of choruses sang with more confidence and that reveal a maturity in the compositions. Still, both vocals and choruses are well rooted in the nightmarish side of tings. The guitar solos are another aspect I like a lot with Vulture Industries – they’re not abused and last that perfect amount of time that make them so enjoyable and still able to trigger lots of emotions. 

The next song – ‘Something Vile’ – makes me wonder with each listen if my music player hasn’t jumped to a song from ‘The Tower’. But somehow it almost jumps from song to song and builds a new one out of their core elements and adds the new playfulness and experience in the singing style, and it even dares to go back to aspects of earlier albums. I know that a few times after hearing this song I was in the mood for ‘The Malefactor’s Bloody Register’. But there’s more new tunes to listen to, so that has to wait. Especially since I got so fascinated by the next one, ‘My Body, My Blood’, probably the ‘ballad’ of the album and another example of how Vulture Industries have that wicked skill of making a song of intense beauty with such morbid lyrical background. I’d surely love to hear this acoustic piece live one day.

Back to ‘normality’, according to Vulture Industries’ unconventional standards at least, and ‘Gentle Touch of a Killer’ is the continuity of the fore mentioned ballad, keeping the same musical line, lyrics idea and adding more aggression to it and more of those beautiful and ‘lazy’ guitar parts. One thing I like about this song (and basically it is the same feeling throughout the whole album), is that by the end of it, the tune gains in intensity but it doesn’t seem to be due the tempo, but rather to the continuous addition of elements that build up to a more massive atmosphere by the end of the tune. I like this kind of music that still surprises you by the direction the song takes, even after you have heard it plenty of times.

‘Screaming Reflections’ starts with a recited piece of poetry (another new element) and it surely makes it more obvious that there is a good infusion of rock in the composition, spiced with some electronic psychedelic elements at times and an older fashioned style of echo in the added to some vocal parts, which make me wonder if this song can be dedicated to David Bowie. Sadly, ‘Midnight Draws Near’ is the ending tune of the album and while it does have heavier elements in it – especially guitar wise – and a madenning keyboard, it also has a less inspired vocal part, which luckily lasts very little. The song (and thus the album) ends and, just as before, a lot of people might be left wondering what was the oddity that they’e just been exposed to. Because the music has kept its main ‘vulturesque’ ingredient: oddity. But it has also brought out new levels of it in a package of 9 songs with way more solid structure and finesse. And as said before, there’s no lack of the good old experimenting with whatever came to mind at the time of recording, yet a way was found that no matter how new the elements are for the band’s music, they have been properly placed in the musical puzzle and bound together with whatever might be considered the old sound so that the listener is offered a fascinating musical experience. Well worth on repeat mode.

The reason I cannot give a full score to the album is that despite its awesome melodies and compositions, none of them reaches the level of epicness of ‘The Hound’ from the previous album. It’s not that they even have to beat that, but for me there’s no perfect score without another hound.