You won't catch the members of the Polish death metal band Vader wearing guyliner, emoting about their girlfriends, or singing falsetto harmonies. They're not in it to make high school kids dance in the moshpit, and they're certainly not looking to capitalize on any flash-in-the-pan trends of modern metal.
"We have fans dedicated to Vader, and they love what we represent," says guitarist and vocalist Piotr Wiwczarek, who has fronted the band since its founding in 1983. "We don't need to change the style to play a more modern style like metalcore. It's not us."
That's not to say they've never changed. In a career that has spanned three decades, Vader took Judas Priest as a starting line, learned to thrash, and ramped up the intensity, paving the way for other pummeling extreme-metal acts in the Polish scene. The band's latest album, 2011's Welcome to the Morbid Reich, is a near-impenetrable wall of tremolo-picked lead lines, chugging rhythm guitars, and cataclysmic double-kick drums. Wiwczarek's vocals range from guttural bark to tortured yowl, well-suited to songs with titles like "I Am Who Feasts Upon Your Soul" and "Don't Rip the Beast's Heart Out."
This is old-school death metal, and it ain't always pretty.
Wiwczarek gives credit where it's due: TSA and Kat were Poland's true metal pioneers, but it was Vader who introduced Polish metal to the world, particularly with their 1990 international breakout album Morbid Reich. "Vader's not the first band, but maybe one of the only ones that survived those days," Wiwczarek says. "Those were hard years. We were kept at a distance from all the media in those years."
The hard years started with a hard decision. Wiwczarek says he was entering finals as a biology student when the band decided to give it a go as full-time musicians. "I had to make a decision, even if it was a hard one and one that was not accepted in the family," he says. "There was not time to do both things."
Nor did they immediately reap the rewards for that leap of faith. "We never heard about success," he says. "We just wanted to play, and we had the chops to be a musician, even if there's nothing like 'death metal musician' existing. We kind of had to create that. We got money to live and feed the family, even if it's not that easy."
Wiwczarek is the only remaining member from the original band, now playing alongside guitarist Marek "Spider" Pajak, bassist Tomasz "Hal" Halicki, and drummer James Stewart. But the band's precision and cohesion are undeniable, blasting away with juggernaut force to the tune of virtuosic guitar riffs and Stewart's technically varied drum patterns.
A standout track on the latest album is "Come and See My Sacrifice," a first-person meditation on crucifixion. "My skin like a soil for the maggots/ Wounds open keep spitting with the blood/ Piercing metal, ripping bones deep inside/ Boiling eyes and hunger for pain divine," Wiwczarek sings, just before the band doubles down on the tempo for a punishing breakdown that demands head-banging.
The Morbid Reich, Wiwczarek says, is a world he began imagining as a teenager, and the title of the latest album is a nod back to the band's early days. "My world I named in those years the Morbid Reich," he says. "In contrast to the world around, it is pretty grey, it's not so much the best thing happening for a teenage guy that I used to be in those days. I just tried to create a world where I feel more happy and joyful."
It's an odd description for a world in which Wiwczarek sings about avenging angels, armies marching under a black banner, and shields covered in warm virgin blood. But where lesser metal acts use such imagery to shock, to convey misogynist messages, or simply to fantasize about slaying dragons, Vader goes for the cerebral, even the humane. On the track "Only Hell Knows," Wiwczarek growls, "Why a need to crush, to grind or disembowel?/ Why a need to rape, to crucify?/ Why a need to raise, to fly, dictate and rule?/ Why a need to fall?/ Only Hell knows."
"It's not about creation of a violent world, because this world is enough violent and we need to change it," Wiwczarek says. "So we tried to show some points of humanity in that. It isn't that we agree or are against; we're just trying to understand.
"I create the stories and I explain all my feelings and put those feelings into the stories I create. This is so bad, this cruel world."