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Sunday Old School: Vital Remains

Photo of Vital Remains

Band Photo: Vital Remains (?)

Ordinarily, when a news story provides the inspiration to choose which band will be featured in the Sunday Old School column, it's because the group has split, reformed or a member has passed away. However, this week, the choice was made when a police officer in Florida was fired for joining a well known death metal band on stage and singing along to their song, "Let the Killing Begin." The quartet in question hails from Providence, Rhode Island and goes by the name of Vital Remains.

The group was forged in 1988 by guitarist, Paul Flynn, who was soon joined in his endeavour by guitarist Butch Machado, vocalist Mike Flynn, bassist Tom Supkow, and drummer Chris Dupont. Mike Flynn and Butch Machado did not last long however, as Vital Remains decided they needed better musicians and replaced the duo with Jeff Gruslin and Tony Lazaro respectively. Spurred on by the writing partnership of the two guitar players, the group became one of the most popular live acts in their local scene and after recording two demos, "Reduced to Ashes" and "Excruciating Pain," they caught the attention of French label, Thrash Records, who signed them up.

Their time with Thrash was very shortly lived, with only the single, "The Black Mass" being released before they moved to Deaf Records, a subsidiary of Peaceville Records, through which they released their debut album, "Let Us Pray" in 1992. It was a very well received record, with many fans citing it as their favourite and death metal devotees consider it to be an overlooked but crucial addition to the collection of any fan of the genre. Listeners and indeed critics, were impressed with the already developed and intelligent musicianship on display and found their mature approach to Satanic lyrics a refreshing change from the gore that was prominent in death metal from stars like Obituary and Cannibal Corpse.

Three years after the release of "Let Us Pray," the band released their sophomore full length, "Into Cold Darkness," which if one were to judge from the cover, depicting a wolf under the Northern Lights in a forest, could be forgiven for thinking it was a black metal record. It was another hit with fans, who praised the cold atmosphere the album generated without trying to emulate some of the black or gothic metal bands that had made a career out of the vibe.

Despite the acclaim they were receiving from listeners, the group felt that they were being severely under promoted by their label and asked for their contract to be cancelled, leading them to sign another French company, Osmose Productions, though not before three members left the group, leaving only Lazaro and bassist, Joe Lewis remaining from the previous album's staff. Lewis took over the vocal position as Vital Remains became a trio for the first time, following the recruitment of drummer, David Suziki. The resulting album, "Forever Underground" is another favourite amongst fans of the band, with some even putting above their debut on the scale of best Vital Remains records. It initially lived up to it's title however, with only a thousand copies being printed and becoming a collectors item for a while before it was re-issued.

Following their third album, the band brought in a new vocalist, Thorn to record their fourth. The end product, "Dawn of the Apocalypse," was yet another well received release, with some fans maybe getting too excited and considering it one of the best death metal albums ever, while others pointed out that the poor production among other issues meant that such a claim was a mere delusion. It was to be their last release with Lewis and their only with Thorn, who was fired for his alcohol and drug use according to Lewis, who himself left soon afterwards.

Somewhat surprisingly, the band replaced the two members with a very high profile addition, bringing in Deicide frontman Glen Benton. What was unsurprising was that the outspoken Floridian brought his highly anti-Christian views with him, which no doubt played a role in their fifth album being titled, "Dechristianize," as well as titles such as, "Saviour To None, Failure To All" and "At War With God." Nevertheless, the album was met with positive feedback, if not to the same extent that previous releases have, with a few fans claiming it went on for too long and became dull after a while.

These themes continued on their next album, "Icons of Evil," which was released in 2007, thus marking the longest gap between Vital Remains albums. Again, it featured plenty of Christianity bashing via songs such as, "Hammer Down the Nails" and "Where Is Your God Now?" It also featured a graphic cover, which was taken from the infamous Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of the Christ," and modified somewhat. Fans generally consider it to be their weakest album, laying much of the blame at the feet of Glen Benton, who left soon afterwards along with David Suziki.

Since the departure of Benton and Suziki, Tony Lazaro has been keeping the group alive through a constant stream of new members and live shows, with bassist Gator Collier being the longest serving recruit, having stayed with the band since 2008. Infernaeon vocalist, Brian Werner joined in 2012, with drummer James Payne and guitarist Dean Arnold joining the ranks in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Vital Remains insist that they are working on new material, with Werner claiming they have as much as two albums worth in 2013. When this new album finally surfaces, it will certainly be interesting, as fans will be eager to hear what the shedding of Benton and the loss of Suziki will mean to the band, but no matter what it sounds like, when it will be released or where they go from here, Vital Remains can be assured that they have earned themselves a place in the annals of death metal history with their rich catalogue of brutality.

Vital Remains - "War In Paradise"

Vital Remains - "Under the Moon's Fog"

Vital Remains - "I Am God"

Vital Remains - "Behold the Throne of Chaos"

Vital Remains - "Let the Killing Begin/Dechristianize"

Vital Remains - "Hammer Down the Nails"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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1 Comment on "Sunday Old School: Vital Remains"

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Anonymous Reader
1. 987654321 writes:

one of my favourite bands. i bought let us prey (and sultrubbed eyes - seance) by accident and have not looked back since.

i agree with the above in terms of GB. clearly their weakest releases.

looking forward to more.

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