Welcome to the first episode of Looking Back. This format is supposed to be a way for me to talk about underrated, overlooked, controversial or simply outstanding albums without being bound by release schedules. These articles will be released on the day that the album they’re about is celebrating an anniversary or at the very least roughly around the same time.
Now, you might ask yourself why I chose Terminal Redux to be the first album to be discussed here and you might also think that it was a very well received album, claiming many top lists of last year and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. However, there is more to this choice than just that. For a long time, I was convinced that Vektor was an unremarkable project that received a lot of praise and hype for no reason. That conviction was challenged by the band’s third and latest album, Terminal Redux. It wasn’t, however, until the end of 2016 that I finally sat down and gave the entire thing a listen, prompted by all the high rankings the album achieved on many end-of-the-year lists. Once I knew what this album was about and how what I was hearing was constructed to tell a story, everything fell into place.
As the band’s first concept album, Terminal Redux was uncharted territory for the band. They did, however, end up delivering a record that will be remembered for its cohesive, well-delivered story, which is as follows:
Isolated in a capsule, the protagonist flies through space. After crossing the “Great Divide” the main character is reborn and achieves control over time or a godlike power of that degree. They return to the planet they came from to confront the regime that sentenced them to isolation. After presenting the leaders of the regime with their new power, the protagonist gains their trust and overthrows them. A new regime is put into place. Those who do not support it are eradicated. Those who remain, however, find themselves as part of a unified society with the means to realize their ambitions. But they are not free. They are led by the will of our protagonist. This new society goes on to explore the universe and unlock its secrets. However, the main character cannot endure the stagnation that befell his ageless being. Driven by a desire to break free from the shackles of infinity they return to where the story began, self-destructing and finally dying.
A lot of the finer details of the story are left to interpretation and imagination, but the framework is sturdy and the blanks are left to compliment it and involve the listener. The fact that Terminal Redux tells such a tight-knit narrative directly influences the songwriting. Every song on this album tells its own part of the story and they all flow and connect.
Before I go into the details, there’s a suspicion that I want to point out though: Despite the band saying that there is no connection between this and their previous albums, there’s reason to believe that Terminal Redux at least borrows some concepts and imagery from the band’s previous efforts. The cover of Black Future seems like an accurate representation of what the new world in Terminal Redux might look like and the cover for Outer Isolation, as well as the album title, are very alike to the beginning of the story that is told by Charging the Void, which brings me to my next point.
Charging the Void initiates the album with blazing guitars and banshee-like vocals to reflect the sense of urgency and chaos in the first part of the song. Vektor waste no time to let us know what we’re in for: an all-out barrage of technical thrash metal oozing with character and vigor. The climax adds clean background vocals that convey the exhilarating surge of power during the protagonist’s rebirth.
The next song, Cygnus Terminal, has what I consider to be the most outstanding example of the band connecting narrative and songwriting on this album. The lyrics during the mid-section of the song could be taken straight to a stage play. In this part of the story, the protagonist confronts the regime that sentenced them to isolation and an exchange ensues. The lyrics deploy the rhethoric device of the anaphora to repeatedly address the main character as “Iso Subject 5”. After that there is a brief moment of silence, the music subsides and a few lone guitar notes fill the sci-fi soundscape in the background. The other instruments chime back in as our protagonist makes his grand response:
I crossed the Great Divide
I now have command over time
It’s futile to object
Now grant my parole from the Isolation Project
Following the last line of this verse the music begins to swell up and the guitars go for brightly shining riffs that signal us that we transcended the situation of the previous verses and return from the scene to the overarching narrative. Another example of how the songwriting does an excellent job of telling the story are the last three songs on the album, Pillars of Sand, Collapse, and Recharging the Void, that constitute the conflict, resolve and climax of the story respectively.
Pillars of Sand is one of the shortest and most intense songs on the album. The section of fiery, tremolo-picked guitars, propelled by blastbeats that connect the verses captures the feeling of urgent despair and loss of control. The band further amplifies that effect just before the climax of the song with guitar-scales that keep wandering from one channel to the other as if climbing up before the aforementioned pattern is again released at the height of the song’s intensity. The following track, Collapse, is in stark contrast to that. Sobered and humbled the protagonist reflects on his situation and thinks of the final solution. Collapse is a somber thrash ballad and as the main character makes up their mind the music brightens up as well, infused with new resolve. The mix of screams and clean vocals makes for a great contrast and builds the main draw of the song. The end of the track briefly brings back the opening section and leads over into the last song on the album, Recharging the Void. There’s an atmosphere of departure as preparations for the final crossing of the “Great Divide” are made. The instruments ascend and inspire the imagination of the listener. The song settles down around the mid-section and the way the band arranges the clean vocals and instrumentation in this part evokes Pink Floyd vibes that stretch out until the last quarter of the song. The thrash returns and Terminal Redux reaches its climax. There’s an intense feeling of exhilaration and liberation as the story comes to a close and the screams, background vocals and instruments fade out into cosmic silence.
At this point I would simply like to praise the craftsman- and musicianship that went into this album. The guitarplaying is very proficient and full of vigor, the drumming is tight and precise, the bass playing makes a perfect backbone to support the guitars and the shrieking vocals make for a memorable storyteller. The mix is simply on point, every instrument has its own space and everything comes together through the great interplay by the bandmembers.
All of this makes Terminal Redux an outstanding album, not only for thrash metal but all of metal. It’s a cohesive, well-constructed story told through technical and challenging compositions with a strong connection between content and presentation. Vektor combined a solid thrash core with various influences from both technical and progressive styles of music to create a unique experience.