It’s incredible to think that it’s almost 30 years since Master first unleashed their self-titled debut album; and since then, the death metal veterans have barely put a foot wrong. They’ve never gone chasing trends, or caring about what is fashionable. Instead, they’re focused solely on doing what they want to do, releasing album after album of old-school death metal. It leaves them in an enviable position now, with latest album Vindictive Miscreant doing exactly what you’d want a Master album in 2018 to do. It’s an album filled with solid tunes, crushing riffs, and a brutal sense of energy. It’s also that most difficult of things to review – an album that does nothing wrong, but sticks so closely to the blueprint of what Master are that critically assessing it is all-but impossible.
Not that this should be considered an inherently bad thing, though. The term “critic-proof” was practically invented for albums such as this, where you go in with a clear set of expectations and have them met. Riffs, song structures, and vocals on Vindictive Miscreant could all have been torn right from the late 80’s/early 90’s, with only the production demonstrating that the album is actually from 2018. Songs such as the tile track, ‘Replaced’, and ‘The Book’ all move with an energy and sense of purpose that’s familiar to anyone who has spent any time with old-school death metal, as single-minded as a pack of zombies chasing down their next victim and just as brutally vicious. There’s the expected punk-via-Motorhead sense of crudeness, and at no point could Vindictive Miscreant be described as flashy or pretentious. It’s the sound of old veterans playing the music they love, and in large part helped define.
If any of this sounds like a criticism, or like I’m damning the album with faint praise – believe me, it’s not. It’s just that Vindictive Miscreant fits so neatly the idea of what an old-school death metal album would sound like in 2018 that its utter loyalty to this sound is both its greatest strength and biggest weakness. There’s a feeling throughout that you might have heard everything Vindictive Miscreant has to offer before – but at the same time, it’s impossible not to enjoy the ride, to be swept along by its sense of energy and conviction. It makes no attempt to break the mould, and nor do you want it to. Along with Obituary, Master are keeping old-school death metal alive, preserved in the same kind of state as it was around the time of On the Seventh Day God Created… Master and Slowly We Rot. To say that bands such as this are the death metal equivalent of Motorhead (or fast food) would be entirely accurate – you know exactly what you’re going to get, you get exactly what you wanted, and it’s always, always fun, even if it’s not exactly good for you.
As for where it stands in terms of Master’s discography – well, it’s hard to say. Much like with Obituary, or Cannibal Corpse, there’s always a rush of excitement on hearing that the old masters have released another album that’s so enjoyable. But, with this in mind, there’s no denying the hunger and sense of urgency present throughout Vindictive Miscreant, and it would be no surprise were it to rank highly within their discography in years to come. It may not do anything that Master haven’t done before, but it does it so well that any complaints about this entirely miss the point. Crude, vicious, and full of energy, Vindictive Miscreant is impossible to deny.