Wow, if this isn’t the most amazing transformation these ears have witnessed for the past 15 years or so… Seriously, even Kafka himself would find it hard to come up with a bigger metamorphosis. One should really suspend his/her disbelief, though, to see the same act behind the music here; that same act who released the awfully boring rehashed modern 90’s groover “Prototype”, one of the worst “prototypes” of the Pantera and the Machine Head-produced originals; and the same act who later tried to jump on the nu-metal wagon with an equally as shameful sophomore effort, ”Oxygen” (stop breathing here, folks!)…
The year is now 2013, and the foursome led by the frontman Joe Varga (vocals and bass) are back into action, and not only that but they’re determined to become the spokesmen of the whole Metal movement.
One would immediately discard them, first based on their awful heritage, and second based on the pompous and pretentious album-title which screams “Manowar!” louder than a horde of England-invading Vikings… However, it’s probably the title itself which may arouse the fan’s curiosity to see if there’ something inside to justify it at least a little. After all, the guys have only been circling around the Metal previously; this time they may have decided to enter it; who knows…
It would be a real pity if the fanbase has dismissed this album due to the two aforementioned reasons. Because Varga and Co. have simply outdone themselves here… To those who have eventually decided to venture into it, make sure you grab your chairs tight: the opening riffs of “Beginning of the End” will throw you out of it; this is virtuous sweeping technicality which will overwhelm you throwing everything at you from the technical arsenal during just above 6-min, a relieving balladic interlude provided in the middle. The high level of musicianship is stunning everyone playing with the utmost precision and conviction, including the vocals of Varga which are on the moderately dramatic clean side this time, quite close to the tones of Dave Mustaine, not very adventurous, but confident enough to lead the technical riff-fest here. No trace of those awful quarrelsome aggro-shouts of old; thank God, or rather… thank Metal.
And this is just the beginning… fortunately not “of the end”. Comes “Gamera”, not promising much title-wise (how many of you remember the Japanese film about the gigantic turtle of the same name?), but carrying on unabated with the technical “massacre” which this time lasts for whole 8-min serving impetuous headbanging passages interlaced with vortex-like technical throw-ins pulling the listener into it the latter also bewitched by the excellent, both melodic and screamy, leads. Later on one will inevitably have a very good time with the never-ending flow of clever arrangements, stylish guitar duels, and more or less expected time-signatures and tempo-changes, not to mention the portion of great melodic leads again offered on almost every composition. All the way to the closer “Shark Attack” which begins quite misleadingly as a ballad before the thrashing ”carnage” starts abruptly to crush your skull with fast lashing guitars and some more immediate decisions which leave the highlight moments to the leads again those hitting the top here with some of the finest licks provided on the thrash metal scene recently.
And that’s it; six tracks clocking on just under 40-min; an impressive achievement coming from a least expected place/band on the metal map…
This is so incredible that some, especially those who were familiar with the band’s earlier catalogue, may give it another spin on the same day just to make sure that they haven’t dreamt it all. This is not only a radical transformation; this is consummate, intelligently-crafted, technical/progressive music which ranks right alongside pillars of the genre, like Megadeth’s “Rust in Peace”, Coroner’s “Mental Vortex”, Sieges Even’s “Life Cycle”, and Mekong Delta’s “Kaleidoscope”. On the other hand, listening to this, one can only wonder as to why the band wasted so much time back in the 90’s to blindly emulate the vogues of the era, obviously forcing themselves to come up with such ridiculously derivative music. Or, they have used the lengthy hiatus wisely, and have undergone a profound training in technical music performance somewhere deep in the Canadian North, under the careful guidance of ethereal Eskimo shamans…
The second chapter from the guys’ conquest of the Metal scene is a fact, released very soon after the album reviewed here. Logically, the title bears no surprises (“Return of the Metal”), and the music is a very faithful follow-up to the one presented on the first chapter; in other words, we have Technical Musical Mastery Part 2, with all the staple tools of the trade lined up in “full Metal jacket”. A word of wisdom to Varga and his gang, though: they may want to drop those childish album-titles which may continue to be the main reason why a certain part of the metal fanbase would never be bothered to check out their output. So how will Episode 3 be titled in the same train of thought? “Power of the Metal”? Anyone?
Canada had some really noteworthy representatives on the technical/progressive thrash metal field in the past: Voivod, above all, but also Savage Steel, Dyoxen, Obliveon, DBC, Disciples of Power, early Annihilator (of course), Horfixion in the not so distant past… From all those it’s only Voivod who still keep the flame of the innovative and the original alive; but now they have very able assistants: almost completely unknown “ugly ducklings” from the 90’s post-thrashy underground have made a major step into becoming the “beautiful swans” of the contemporary metal scene; a major statement of intent being the abum here which is not all the band has to say, obviously. Are we talking the best kept secret on the field at present? You better believe it… and track it down. Quick.
Canadian lunatics Varga take late ’80s thrash to a lab and go ‘mad scientist’ on it with some very interesting results.
Blending familiar sounds from the heavyweights of the thrash genre with the intelligence of various prog legends is a brave and fairly eclectic move, but does it work?
Formed in 1989, Varga were naturally influenced by the most prominent musicians in the metal genre at the time, which is immediately apparent the moment you hit play. As soon as Joe Varga’s sneering vocals tear into the opening track Beginning Of The End you’re transported straight back to the glory days of Metallica and Megadeth, Varga doing a fantastic job of emulating the down picked aggression, riff density, high speed pace and anarchic attitude of both bands.
The similarities to Megadeth abound as you work through the album and come across the incredible lead work and intelligent, agile riffage that makes up the densely packed and thoughtfully arranged tracks. These similarities, while very impressive in their accuracy and technical ability also run the risk of condemning Varga to being nothing more then a clone of more recognisable bands.
Luckily there is a substantial factor that elevates them above such worries. The ability to blend their perfectly honed classical thrash sound with the progressive intelligence of a band such as Rush, with a touch of the atmospheric vibe associated with Opeth.
This allows them to create a much more layered and substantial overall product that experiments with the thrash template far more then the bands who conceived it. A track like Beginning Of The End is a show stopping example of the band’s abilities, tipping the hat to all the aforementioned heavyweights while still retaining its feel, and in the process feeling fresh and inventive.
Concreting the late ’80s theme is the lyrical content and delivery. Tracks like Mad Scientist, Shark Attack and Plane Crash serve as very obvious reminders of what era these guys are coming from, helping to keep you immersed in the vibe of a denim wearing thrasher from those glory days. That they manage to work in progressive elements, without alienating the listener from the ‘go fast or go home’ mentality of early thrash aficionados, is testament to the writing abilities and fantastically well structured nature of these tracks. Some of the tracks drag ever so slightly but are saved by moments of sheer musical madness, pulling the listener back in before the attention wanders to far.
There is no denying that this album is dated by its production and some of its genre elements. This is not your typical modern metal release. It isn’t technically pushing any boundaries in terms of new genres. It is however a shining example of what can still be done with classic thrash if you have the technical ability and talent to experiment with other genres as well. Not many bands have attempted what has been done here, and even fewer with this level of success.
Dig out your denim vest and prepare for a proggy blast from the past!
Boldly old school, impressively technical and intelligently progressive, Varga have created something remarkably eclectic yet comfortably familiar.
Canadian prog-thrashers VARGA had a brief run from 1989 through the mid-Nineties, which is to say, they were doomed from the start for obvious reasons if you were paying attention to the North American music climate of that period. They released two albums, “Prototype” and “Oxygen” as well as their 1991 debut cassette, “Multiple Wargasms”, before packing it in. In 2011, the entire lineup of Joe Varga, Dan Fila, Sean Williamson and Adam Alex reunited and went back into their vaults with the purpose of releasing two scheduled albums bearing re-tooled material just now seeing the light of day, the first being “Enter the Metal”.
Listening to “Enter the Metal”, the listener is saturated by abundant chops, well-timed transitions and wads of thrash to chew on. The six song album is a product of the times the songs were originally conceived, which means it carries more than a few airs of ANNIHILATOR, ANVIL, MEGADETH and VOIVOD. The effect is so fluent, the chains planting into the skull inside “Enter the Metal”‘s packaging haunt of Vic Rattlehead. In other words, VARGA shamelessly yet proficiently stake who they are and where they come from.
The longer songs on “Enter the Metal”, “Gamera”, “Shark Attack” and “Plane Crash” sometimes wander (“Gamera”, mostly) and require the listener to absorb the note-flinging parts, randomly placed as they may be at times. At least “Plane Crash” sounds like a continuous terror dive, prolonged at eight nerve-wracking minutes. “Shark Attack” makes good use of “Rust in Peace”-era MEGADETH to send out tons of gusting shred, vying as a possible theme for the “Sharknado” sequel just getting ready to film. The best two tracks aside from “Shark Attack”, “Beginning of the End” and “No More Clean Air”, are focused juggernauts blending speed and power metal with excellent juxtaposition.
Joe Varga wields rapid, heavy bass picking and at times he sends out blower chunks in the vein of VOIVOD’s “Blacky” Theriault. On slower march patterns, Varga has a tendency to mimic Steve Harris, but he spreads himself into the whipping guitar lines of Sean Williamson and Adam Alex on the quicker parts and he’s lethal in response to them. Varga frequently summons Dave Mustaine vocal impersonations throughout the album, which is not much of an offense since his tones are sharp and seldom over-the-top.
The banging power drive of “No More Clean Air” will prompt automatic headbanging as VARGA takes up MEGADETH and NUCLEAR ASSAULT’s old environmental conscientiousness cause before beginning a succession of increasing tempos and scorching guitar solos. The payoff to “No More Clean Air” comes with a colossal thrash attack that any diehard will go wild over, especially once VARGA dashes on the layers before stripping it all back down to the original piledriving sequence.
Clamoring drum rolls from Dan Fila in the middle of “Plane Crash” remind of the late Gar Samuelson and his precise signature changes on “Enter the Metal” give VARGA all the flexibility they need to romp through most of their songs while dishing out metallic ear candy. The delicate note scales blossoming amidst the otherwise throwaway “Mad Scientist” maintains VARGA’s expertise of flair.
“Enter the Metal” is thus filled with hounding note scales, impressive shred and mostly well-harnessed mayhem sure to satiate any fan of classic metal. This album sounds like many you’ve heard from the late eighties, sure, but it’s done with such allegiance to some of the best of vintage American and Canadian metal, it’s an easy sell. Stand by in 2014 for VARGA’s next installment, “Return of the Metal”. Obviously these guys are Bruce Lee fanatics on top of monster junkies.
Canada’s VARGA are among a comparatively small number of Metal bands that manage to rise again from the dead, having been on some form of hiatus since 1996. Late 2013 saw the release of their rebirth album, “Enter the Metal”, which masterfully combines elements of Thrash, Heavy, Progressive, and perhaps even a little Power Metal. This sees a drastic change from their tenure during the 90’s, which were inspired by Nu, Industrial and Groove metal. I feel as if this change was most welcomed because, even though “Enter the Metal” is a short album according to the track listing, each of the songs are individually lengthy powerhouses of pure metal.
“Beginning of the End” is, without contest, the fastest and most aggressive track on the album, interceded by only a few calm passages. The Thrash-inspired riff work is incredibly obvious; I’m making many melodic and rhythmic connections with MEGADETH’s “Endgame” album, my favorite MEGADETH album of all time. Even Joe’s voice sounds almost identical to Mustaine’s, and at some point I feel as if I’m listening to Dave himself. A good thing, since he has one of the most established and powerful vocal techniques in Thrash metal, and it fits this blistering speed track perfectly.
“Plane Crash” contains little vocal lines in comparison to other tracks, but it stood out as a true gem of the genre. Who am I kidding? There are at least 5 (arbitrarily speaking) genres in this track alone. It begins with heavy and complex riffage, with technical rhythm patterns that strongly evoke Prog. From time to time, here on in, I hear a little of ICED EARTH, a lot of Thrash Metal. The drum work purveyed Dan are technical and precise on the mathematical level; the twin guitar leads are virtuosic in nature, but my favorite thing about this track (and most of the other tracks) is the bass work by Joe, with a tone that perfectly balances growl and clarity, and playing that balances technical lead fills without acting like a 3rd guitar.
“Enter the Metal” is one hell of an album, and an even better comeback album in retrospect. I can only hope it will do wonders for putting the band back into some sort of spotlight.