While the music landscape has shifted and changed, it’s fair to say that Vex Red hasn’t.
At the turn of the century, Vex Red had a cup of coffee with the big time when they released their debut album, Start with a Strong and Persistent Desire. Amid modest commercial success, mixed reviews and disputes with their label, Vex Red soon went from “next big thing” to “flash in the pan.” Now, 17 years after their debut album, the English electronic rock outfit have reunited to bring us their Give Me the Dark EP, and while the music landscape has shifted and changed time and again during their absence, it’s fair to say that Vex Red hasn’t.
The band’s music has always been built on a foundation of rock-solid, heavy riffage and intricate, melodic synth and sequencer patches. Give Me the Dark is no different, as was obvious even before the EP was released. Opening track “Tarantula” and the following “Burn This Place” have both already been released as singles, and they sound almost instantly familiar not just to those who have heard the debut. The climbing slow build to “Tarantula” and driving rhythm of “Burn This Place” wouldn’t sound out of place alongside the later work of Linkin Park or more recent efforts of Bring Me the Horizon. It’s hard-edged, sure, but also accessible, streamlined and clean, radio-ready rock.
There are some nice moments here. Take for instance the layered vocal harmonies and soaring chorus on the slow-burning “Air” and the soft-loud dynamics and pop-sensible arrangements on the aforementioned singles. But for all the sonic pleasantry comes some hackneyed, predictable and, at times, clumsy and melodramatic lyricism. Vex Red strive for the anthemic, but beyond surface level, they don’t really seem to have anything worthwhile to say. “And yeah I’m angry/ And yeah I’m mad/ I still get lonely/ I still get sad…” bleats frontman Terry Abbott on “Tarantula,” effectively admitting his inclination towards futile angst, amongst many other couplets of tired alt-metal tropes. “Deliver us now to an early grave,” as he whispers on “Air,” is bad enough, but the “Give me the dark, oh my god/ To reclaim my heart is all I want” on “So I Can Sleep” is audibly eyeroll-inducing.
With songs like these, it’s easy to see why Vex Red’s initial success was brief and lukewarm. The EP might sound good, but with uninspired lyrical content and run of the mill, one-string breakdowns aplenty, it can be fairly difficult to stay interested. Fans from the old days will surely get a kick out of Give Me the Dark, but vague, middle-class anxiety and catchy tunes can only get you so far.