Album Review: Vatican Falling | Conquest
With their 2nd studio album completed, the #IntoThePitUniverse and Deathcore fans alike can truly appreciate the latest record from the progressive metal band, Vatican Falling. “Conquest”, their newest release has surfaced and established V.F. as more than a “One Trick Pony”. The Las Vegas based metal group has spent the better part of the last 12 months working on the followup to their debut album, “Famine”, and if I may say so, its definitely a step in the right direction. Let’s venture #IntoThePit and give our readers an incredibly solid breakdown of Vatican Falling’s, Conquest.
Let’s dive in.
The main thing that I noticed toggling between the first album, “Famine” and the newest, “Conquest” is that both records sound fairly similar, but the latest release is slightly more evolved. The evolution is heard in the overall layout of the melodic properties of the project. By being more “evolved” it doesn’t necessarily mean more “complex”, or that it has more things going on throughout the project, it simply means that there is an audible growth with the group. It’s more of a maturity in the band’s sound. Vatican Falling’s first project already set a solid foundation in the production department showcasing each members ability to hold their own. It seems the Conquest LP gave them the opportunity to feel more comfortable in the studio allowing them to let loose and really just live in the pocket.
One thing that V.F. does really well is bounce between programmed production and the more traditional instrumental based production that most metal groups rely on. Whether utilizing the programmed drum and synth sections in intro’s, transitions, or breaks, they all sound appropriate and well placed. Hearing them laced through their project captures the musical atmosphere very well and I look forward to them diving deeper in these features as future projects come to fruition.
Lead singer, Adam Ray’s vocal production was diversely talented. Having witnessed him and the group live in action before, it gives you a stronger appreciation for his talent hearing it recorded competently. Newer bands have a tendency to record low growls and high growls/screams on the same tracks which can provide more of a “live” feel. My personal preference is to always have them separated. There’s a mixing/engineering reason as to why I prefer hearing vocal separation, but in regards to vocal production the main reason why I prefer this is displayed very well on Adam Ray’s vocals throughout “Conquest”. Adam does a stellar job of performing layered vocals and matching his phrasing and timing between tones. If he recorded his vocals on one track, there’s no way this would be accomplished and it would drastically take away from the record’s production. He also showcases some really cool “call and answer” sections on a few tracks as well. This, in my opinion is a fairly advanced technique in vocal production and writing. The main area of growth I hear vocal production-wise for future projects would be exploring Adam’s cleaner, more progressive tones in more melodic sections of the songs. This could give the listeners a slight breath of fresh air before transitioning back into the annihilating deathcore vocals Vatican Falling fans appreciate the most.
Guitarists, Dustin Allen and Mar Cula were a great tag team throughout the project not only riding the vibes in their supporting roles, but stepping into the forefront of the music when necessary. Solos were written and performed in a manner that made sense front to back of each feature and rarely seemed out of place. At times it seemed as though the lead guitar had a voice of it’s own through the flowing melodic and riveting note progressions.
Bassist, Thomas Palmer resided in the pocket for most of the record and wasn’t featured as much as I would’ve preferred a bassist to be. With two albums under your belt, it’s perfectly fine to start stepping out with more musical risk in future projects. The group does a superb job of creating space for members to shine, so utilize what you already do so well and showcase some badass picking on the low end. Listeners deserve to have their balls tickled every once in a while.
Lastly on the production end, drummer, Nick Robinson was for a lack of a better term a high caliber machine gun with his sticking and double kick patterns. V.F. does a great job of capturing impactful, high energy moments and a key component of that is Robinson’s performances throughout the project. If I had not witnessed the group in person, I could swear that the drum performance of this record was seriously programmed. It’s safe to say I’d fall short in making that assumption. I was throughly impressed with the consistency of the entire group, especially with Nick Robinsons contributions.
Overall, the production on Vatican Fallings sophomore album was a solidified sign of growth for the deathcore rebels.
Production Score 4.1/5
Into The Mix:
From an engineering standpoint, it’s difficult to find anything truly wrong mix-wise with “Conquest”. All the elements cut through appropriately and rarely anything clashed together frequency-wise. Whoever mixed the project was a seasoned engineer who had a few metal records under his belt by this point. My guess is that he/she also mixed the first album as well because the sonic consistency is prevalent. There was an edited stutter effect here and there that could’ve been executed and automated a little more proficiently but that’s me being incredibly picky at this point. If there was anything I wish I could’ve heard more of, it would’ve been a few more well executed vocal effects on Ray’s layers just for some added ear candy. You could also get away with an added filtered effect here and there on the guitars as well as vocals, but the writing/production would have to call for that instead of it being forced. My favorite aspect of the engineering on the record was the choice of reverbs. Whether it was a plate verb being used or a reverb of another breed, the use of the decay on the verb was absolutely impressive and worked beyond well musically. Again, there were very few things I found wrong with the mix of this album.
Mix Score: 4.6/5
A Mastered Experience:
Having been on both ends of the mastering process, there’s one thing that I look for when critiquing a mastered record or project..
Can I listen to this project from top to bottom and it sound cohesive all the way through?
For the most part, any deathcore progressive metal fan looking to consume quality music is going to say yes, this record is listenable all the way through. The highs, mids, and lows are fairly consistent from the top of the record to the bottom of the record with the exception of TWO songs. In cycling through the album, a couple songs sounded inconsistent with the overall sonic performance of the rest. When I got to track #7 titled “Conqure and Divide”, I immediately heard the sonic difference of the frequency response between that and the other tracks on the project. The first thing I noticed was that it seemed as though the high frequencies in the cymbals were diminished. As I continued to listen, I discovered that the whole song was eq’d differently than the rest of the album, as if it lacked energy compared to the rest. Cymbals were duller, the snare lacked pressure and impact compared to it’s performance on the other songs. It simply seemed less “shiny”. After stumbling across this, I went through and listened closer to each song and the 1st track of the album, “Belail Lord of Lies”, had a very similar situation going on as well. It’s more difficult to tell with the first song mainly because it starts with a sampled more melodic intro, and secondly, it just seems as though the 2nd song of the album picks up energy with it’s impactful down beat. Once it get’s into the heavier section of the song, you’ll hear the similarities between track #1, and track #7.
Again, to the average listener who’s just here to have a good time, air drum, and scream their brains out, this should be a non-issue for you. To the trained ear, this is a slight inconsistency in the mastering of these two tracks. Overall, the record sounds good and credit should be given where it’s due.
Master Score 3.7/5
All in all, Vatican Falling is an impressive, talented group of musicians breaking into the deathcore scene with strides. They’ve followed up their freshman album with a silence shattering musical compilation displaying top tier artistry. The opportunity for growth with the latest project opens up a highway to longevity and a lasting imprint on the metal community. After witnessing the collective perform live, it was obvious that all the key components for a high quality metal band was there. Now that I’ve had the pleasure to fully immerse myself into a studio recorded project, I’m even more excited with the future of this group. Congrats to V.F. for the successful completion of their sophomore album, Conquest and I on behalf on the #IntoThePitUniverse wish them all the best in their “conquest” of solidifying themselves in the hall of death metal greats.