Whereas The Dystopian Journals is like a gradually unfolding, nightmarish, personal drama, The Malefactor's Bloody Register resembles a Victorian-set, episodic musical with a large cast of characters. Rowdy crowd scenes dominate the first part of the album, soliloquies the second. The short, carnival-organ-based instrumental "Crooks & Sinners" is followed by a furious, three-track barrage, where the mercilessness and barbarism of the justice system are reflected in savage riffs, frenzied rhythms, and inexorable pounding. Utilizing his varied styes, frontman Bjørnar Erevik Nilsen (supported by his bandmates) portrays sadistic enforcers, condemned felons, and other roles, but the majority of these characters are hidden within the elaborate scenery, their lines muffled. The vocals are, for the most part, overly submerged in the mix and/or distorted - egregiously so in the case of "The Hangman's Hatch," where the only moments of clarity come, unfortunately, in a blatantly stagy, oft-repeated refrain featuring deliberately (one assumes) cloddish-sounding backing vocals affecting some kind of jaunty gallows fatalism.
Besides rendering Nilsen's excellent lyrics largely unintelligible, the treatment of the vocals robs the album of the dramatic presence he had on The Dystopian Journals, denying that initial whirlwind of songs a much-needed anchor and limiting the emotive power of the slower, more melancholic songs that follow. Only in "I Hung My Heart on Harrow Square" does he take center stage for a sustained period, and the impact of that stint highlights how much his presence is missed elsewhere, especially when the songwriting is a little subpar. The chorus of "Crowning the Cycle" tries to be majestic but seems flat and somewhat plodding. Although compelling at times, "Of Branded Blood" is a far less potent closer than The Dystopian Journals' "Grim Apparitions." The exquisite "This Cursed Flesh," on the other hand, entrances the listener from start to finish with gorgeous melodies, a killer interlude that's like something from a 60s spy movie soundtrack, and a stunning microcosm of the diverse, original-sounding guitarwork that represents the CD's primary area of improvement over its predecessor.
Since the release of their first album, Vulture Industries have taken their music several steps forward and sideways. From an evolutionary perspective, the most important move is that of essentially phasing out horror elements, one of the most charming but, potentially, confining facets of their sound. Other losses, though, seem unnecessary. The new album's increased theatricality sometimes comes at the expense of aesthetics and doesn't involve the sense of dramatic progression achieved by The Dystopian Journals. It captures more fully the energy of the band's fantastic live performances but lacks the immediacy of their debut, due largely to Nilsen's less prominent role within the rich layers of sound. Despite its flaws, The Malefactor's Bloody Register emphatically reaffirms Vulture Industries' versatility and uniqueness. For sophisticated, multifaceted, theatrical metal that rocks, no one does it better.
|1. Crooks & Sinners|
|2. Race for the Gallows|
|3. The Hangman’s Hatch|
|4. The Bolted Door|
|5. This Cursed Flesh|
|6. I Hung My Heart on Harrow Square|
|7. Crowning the Cycle|
|8. Of Branded Blood|
|Buy other Vulture Industries albums|