Monday, September 24, 2018

Rostok Vampires - Transylvanian Disease (1989)

I had encountered the name Rostok Vampires a handful of times through the 80s and early 90s, probably referenced in some zines, or perhaps the 'thank you' list in some album's liner notes, and I thought whoever they are, they sound kind of cool, as we often would think scouring the metal underground before being faced with the reality. It would be around a decade before I'd tracked down any of their music, which happened to be their first full length album, Transylvanian Disease. Cool band name. Cool album title. My expectations were that this was going to be some sort of horror crossover/thrash band, but in reality that's more what they evolved towards on later efforts, like their sophomore Misery, which had a lot more metallic riffing across its tracks than this debut, which is more or less a straight horror-punk record with only a few brief guitar parts one might classify as thrash or heavy metal of any sort.

Transylvanian Disease is essentially a hardcore punk album, very heavily influenced by the Misfits, as you can tell by the happy, predictable punk riffs wed to the pained, howling, Glen Danzig-a-like vocals and gang shouts. The difference is that, contrary to what the cool cover artwork implies, the lyrics and song themes don't seem terribly rooted in horror. Perhaps a little of the imagery conjured in the lyrics of a few tracks, but largely this is a mix of the personal non-conformist punk shtick with some social and political lyrics, such as "Faith" which covers Islamic extremism, or "Gun" which might be a criticism of firearm ownership, though the lyrics are fairly minimalist. So right away we've got this huge thematic disconnect which only breeds some degree of disappointment, after seeing that illuminated graveyard, dark trees, and thinking this was somehow going to be some creepy crossover. Just know this in advance, it looks a lot cooler than it sounds. Now, having said that, the Rostok Vampires debut is actually not all that terrible of an album, if you're into the punk and hardcore sounds of the early to mid 80s and seek out records that followed along that path.

The album opens with a screaming sample and then breaks down into a drum-driven, groove which frames some stock rock chords and weird, atonal leads, all before the inevitable circle pit thrust with the raving vocals that places itself somewhere between the Misfits and Minor Threat. The guitar tone, drums and general atmosphere are actually quite good, it sounds snug with its times and that automatically lends itself to a sincerity a lot of genre fans really crave. The songs don't seem like they required a whole lot of thought to conceive, split between some energetic muted hardcore riffs and punk 101 chord progressions, but there's at least a little bit of fire lit beneath these Germans, a little more anger and rawness, rather than the kitschy drive-thru horror vibe of Danzig, Doyle and crew. Bass and drums are about as frantic as this genre got back them, and you certainly get the impression that if this were played on a stage in front of you there would be a whole lot of mohawk-slinging shit kickers whipping their leather jackets and spikes around. Although once the lead guitars break out, and there are several whipping around, a few of the true might have gotten confused.

The Vampires seemed comfortable in this sound, but apart from a few slightly darker riffs or breakdowns where the tunes seem to mutate towards more 'core or metal, it's just not a set of songs that have really stuck with me whatsoever. I would never pick this one out of a lineup against the Misfits, Ramones, Black Flag, Seven Seconds, The Exploited, Agent Orange, or any of the other early punk and hardcore that I often find myself spinning through the decades. They offer a little more than some shallow impersonation of the American and British scenes, to be fair, but really didn't seem to have hit their stride at this point. Coupled with the missed opportunity for some creepy, atmospheric, unique Euro punk or hardcore that really embraced the horror theme that their moniker and album title imply, it was quite a disappointment when I at last got around to listening to it. I'd easily recommend heading straight for their heavier, thrashier albums like Torment of Transformation and Misery, but if you're super invested in that 80s heavier punk sound then you could do worse than Transylvanian Disease. Just keep the fangs and fake blood in storage, because this album does.

Horror-meter: Two out of ten pretty gravestones.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

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