VHS – Quest for the Mighty Riff

Ontario death metal slashers, VHS, are back with their seventh album in seven years, and they take a niche film genre once more for their inspiration. This time Mike Hochins and the boys delve into the world of sword and sorcery and pay homage to Conan the Barbarian, Highlander, and Masters of the Universe. Unusually for the band, Quest for the Mighty Riff is only their second release of the year following the hilarious tribute to Jason Vorhees on their standalone single, ‘When Sleeping Bag Meets Tree’ (watch Friday the 13th, Part VII to learn what this means). You don’t need an intro when the band do it for you on track number one: “Three heroes are here to step up to the challenge, armed with riffs, powerful incantations, and thundering hammer strikes. Join VHS on the perilous quest for the mighty riff.”

It’s to their credit that VHS are one of the few bands that still make death metal interesting and – dare was say it? – fun. You’ll find goregrind, punk, thrash, and even traditional heavy metal in their melting pot. Their seven years together as a trio has given them time to perfect their rhythmic formations and tighten their delivery. ‘Cleave ‘Em and Leave ‘Em’ might be a raw burst of Autopsy-inspired gore, but it also inserts a monstrous head-spinning groove at the half-way point. Yes, it’s filthy, but it rocks out with a shredding solo and leaves you wanting more. ‘Dagoth Must Die’ lives up to the album’s title with an extravagant pentatonic hook emerging from the foul death-doom ambush. You can hear Mortician and Macabre, but you can also detect the influence of the classic Teutonic thrash of the mid-1980s. Andy Middaugh’s drums slice through the mix like lethal machines deployed to vaporise an entire village, yet there is nothing here that cannot be replicated on a live stage.

VHS don’t bother with longform death metal songs to showcase their sophisticated skills. Only two cuts on Quest for the Mighty Riff go beyond the four-minute threshold. ‘There Can Be Only One’ leaves a slimy blood trail behind after devastating you with a nasty Carcass riff and a venomous guest appearance from Schuler Benson of grindcore upstarts, Trocar. James McBain of Hellripper lends his blackened thrash hysteria to ‘Are You Afraid of Dragons?’, where the band extract their pleasure through a nod to Metallica’s Ride the Lightning era in the mid-tempo passages. The vocals are hellish and proud of their grotesque villainy. VHS are not afraid of the heavy metal heroism of Manowar, but they know it’ll sound even better on ‘The Fighting Eagle’ as a sideshow rather than the main event. The inhuman caveman vocals are disgusting.

Not surprisingly, the Quest for the Mighty Riff draws inspiration from the clichés of old video trailers. ‘Hail King Arthur’ thrives on a dungeon synth intro composed by Matt Harvey (Exhumed). You could call it a death metal battle cry with hideous grunts and morbid drop-tuned guitar riffing. No two songs on this album are the same, yet the ingredients are often identical – that’s the greatest triumph of this record. In lesser hands, it would be just another death metal LP.

Goregrind under the stewardship of VHS is an exciting proposition. Their trashy sense of humour, colourful brutality, and talent for creating a musical equivalent of fight-or-flight mode are what sets them apart. Whether it be the filthy punk of ‘Eternia Needs a Hero’ or the malevolent guitar wizardry of ‘Adventurers, Heroes, Brothers’, there is something here for all lovers of transgressive guitar music.



Release Date: 19/05/2023

Record Label: Wiseblood Records

Standout tracks: Cleave ‘Em and Leave ‘Em; There Can Be Only One; Are You Afraid of Dragons?

Suggested Further Listening: Vulgar Dissection – Buried and Forgotten (2020), Hooded Menace – The Tritonus Bell (2021), Autopsy – Morbidity Triumphant (2022)