Several decades ago, when prog metal was in its infancy, the idea that one man could produce an album that sounds even half as good as "Extinction Level Event" was unthinkable. Obviously, technology has played its hand since those primitive times and sonic cathedrals of sound conjured by some plucky nerd and a lightly smoking laptop are commonplace, but there is still something hugely impressive about THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY and the music that Graham Keane, and the musicians he surrounds himself with, create under that name. His 2017 debut, "Abject Tomorrow" was easily one of that year's strongest prog metal records, and while the DIY and low-key nature of this project means that an all-conquering world tour remains wedged in some distant pipeline, the follow-up is so self-evidently great that the word needs to spread far and wide, hopefully starting with this review.
"Extinction Level Event" explores mankind's multifarious, imagined responses to an impending apocalypse, and there's an edginess and disquiet underpinning many of these songs that was only hazily present on the debut. Nonetheless, the bulk of the album comprises huge, muscular and intricate metal constructions, all graced with strong melodies and a soulful presence courtesy of singer Nathan Maxx. It's stirring, majestic and often exhilarating stuff: classic prog metal to a great degree, but given a wholesale state-of-the-art upgrade, with occasional bursts of ruthless modern death metal and juddering djent nudging the sum of those parts toward a deeply satisfying, all-encompassing whole.
Two preview singles provided a neat snapshot of the album's essence: "The Signal" is simply a great melodic metal tune, but with that eccentric machinery driving it forward; "On a Silver Thread" is an exquisite slice of symphonic, sci-fi bombast, with smart pop sensibilities and a Devin Townsend-like mischievous streak. It's the epics that will have students of this stuff drooling into their laps, however, the opening title track is a monumental instrumental piece that showcases Keane's effervescent soloing while serving up an indecent number of great riffs, while "Judgement" is a bruising but lugubrious sprawl, with shades of classic FATES WARNING, a magical mid-song detour with intoxicating flavors of the mystic East, and a healthy sprinkling of gothic melodrama. Every last bit of it is vastly more interesting than the majority of DREAM THEATER and SYMPHONY X clones out there, not least because Keane's imagination has allowed him to plunder all eras of the genre, en route to this assured and thoroughly absorbing hymn to the end of the world. Tick tock, folks.