VYPERA – Eat Your Heart Out

Vypera, a melodic metal band from Sweden, began life in 2016 as Madhouse, a covers band working the local circuit. On the basis of their debut release under the new name – their first to feature all new, self penned material – you might find yourself wondering if they were better when hammering through other peoples’ hits, since the bulk of ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ is…fairly bad, to put it mildly.

Sweden have a great track record for rock and metal exports, and the Scandinavians have more than shown an easy knack for great riffs and choruses over the years, very much providing a strong backbone for the melodic rock and metal scene. On on the basis of this debut, though, as much as some people would like to purport such a notion that the Swedes are infallible, such talents aren’t guaranteed. Although the bulk of this debut rehashes some old style riffs fairly solidly, Vypera’s song writing isn’t amazing; the record’s production values are decidedly average, and vocally, seventy five percent of the time, an ugly voice derails most of the good elements there might have been. Faced with something that sounds like polished demo with half of the guitars sounding really trebly, as if they’re bleeding in from another room, it’s immediately hard on the ears.

That said, there are three fairly decent songs hiding within a reasonably gruelling fifty minutes. ‘Cold As Ice’ opens with a lengthy instrumental passage where clean toned guitars weave a melody akin to a Dio ballad, beneath soaring leads that accentuate an AOR heart. Even when those sounds give way to a thundering 80s metal riff driven by heavy drums and a chugging guitar calling back to the NWOBHM, Ypera’s brand of retro rock shows a huge confidence. With guitarist Christoffer Therin going all out with a few squealing fills, the leather trousered, no holds barred 80s love really rips, and even frontman Andreas Wollstrom sounds comfortable, enthused, and like a man capable of tackling a broad range of classic metal songs, if not brilliantly, at least competently. The echoing production doesn’t bring out the best in the music, but if you’re happy to overlook that, this has all the nuts and bolts of an old school metal banger.

The same goes for ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll’, a powerhouse of trad metal underscored by power metal drums. It really gives the band a solid platform for their supercharged riffs. The jagged edges, played at an 80s thrash tempo but clinging on to a trad heart, convey a great tone and a middle eight showcasing some twin leads set against massive whoahs whips up a reasonable amount of excitement, before a fretboard melting lead delivers the album’s greatest performance. It often requires the listener to have a lot of goodwill when it comes to overlooking some massive lyrical clichés, but then again, a full scale riff fest extolling the virtues of rock was unlikely to be cerebral… Easily the album’s highlight, ‘Sierra’ works a solid melodic metal riff throughout, and its full throttle tempo and sharp edged approach definitely sounds like a Euro cousin to classic Tygers of Pang Tang. That would be almost enough to make the number work, musically speaking, but with a massive chorus in hand and a huge focus on gang vocals that shows influence from the late 80s US glam scene, this pushes all the right retro buttons. This track, filling a nicely energised four minutes shows that Vypera can deliver the goods when they really try, and also suggests that the label’s faith in the band isn’t entirely misplaced.

‘Slow Me Down’ should’ve been equally good, but suffers from a one line chorus being wailed over a massive riff, creating something akin to a NWOBHM act that never quite made it. It’s a pity the song writing and vocals grate so intensely, as Christoffer – as is often the case – can be heard working a few superb riffs, and his lead guitar break is especially on point, with some fretboard antics that take inspiration from great players like Reggie Wu and Ronnie Le Tekro. Likewise, ‘Standing On The Edge of Love’ turns in a massive melodic chorus and some great guitar work, but is let down by some other stylistic choices. In this instance, a few of the vocals are incredibly wayward and a weird world music-meets-prog tinge on the verse sounds as if it were shoehorned in, derailing everything in the process.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album wavers between average and genuinely bad melodic metal, helmed by a singer who obviously hopes to be XYZ’s Terry Illous or Steelheart’s Matijevik but ends up presenting to a semi-tortured, semi-professional squeal that doesn’t always suit the music in hand. From a musical standpoint, ‘Fantasy’ is very strong as it shows off some great tones from Cristoffer when he actually allows himself to slow down. Multi-layered guitar sounds call back to works by fellow Scandinavians Pole Position and some of the late 80s melodic metal giants, and another great lead break makes the number worth hearing. For all that is good here, there’s the issue of an average vocal that stretches beyond the performer’s natural tone; a slightly waily approach hampers some of the solid music, and during the moments where Andreas is briefly backed by acoustic strums, it plays out as if he’s working a guide vocal and plans to turn in something better later. This is a pity, as there’s a solid hook here and a bigger concession to a hard edged AOR sound really suits the band.

During ‘Spellbound’, Andreas starts to sound like a man singing independently from the rest of his bandmates, wailing as if he’s adding to some kind of metal-based karaoke backing track which, during the verses, sounds quite messy. Thankfully, when the chorus actually surfaces, the riffs retain a swagger and an old fashioned melodic metal charm that just about works. Or at least they would, if Vypera were in possession of a better singer. Andreas wails the title over and over without care, leading to something that just becomes hard work in record time. ‘Straight For The Kill’, meanwhile, is flat out awful metal hokum – sort of a low budget Dio run through a Persian Risk filter. It’s the kind of retro musical workout that really doesn’t show any of the band favourably at all: Andreas curls his voice around some painfully long notes and even his attempts at introducing a moodier, dark tone can’t disguise his flaws as a performer. When Christoffer sounds like a man going through the motions, you know things are really on the wobble. Working with a slower, slightly dirtier riff, he definitely sounds less inspired. There’s nothing memorable about this at all. At least set closer, ‘Wingborne’ tries its very best to entertain via a solid enough melodic metal riff from the Dokken mould, and does reasonably well at first, since it offers a verse that’s far more considered than a lot of the other tracks. Even when reaching for some of the bigger notes, Andreas manages to hold his own melodically. It doesn’t last, of course; when the chorus hits, and the band heavies up a little, the vocals escalate in kind, and Andreas starts to yell and squeal almost uncontrollably. What started with great promise, unfortunately, suffers the same fate as the bulk of the album, leaving behind a dated sounding, metal edged wailer that only really deserves a cursory listen before moving on.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm here from a band that clearly champions a great old school metal sound, but there’s never enough to recommend Vypera as any more than a morbid curiosity. On the positive side, fans of Tygers of Pan Tang, Heaven’s Edge and even the more recent Fans of The Dark will find music that’s easy to latch onto if approached with a nostalgic rosy tint. Unfortunately, the empty sounding production job, some appalling vocals and too much third rate song writing render the bulk of the record unlistenable. It’s hard to imagine this being of any long term enjoyment to anyone other than those who buy every Frontiers Records release, and even then, this is the kind of album most will spin twice before shelving indefinitely. The presence of three strong tracks is enough to make you hope that Vypera might improve in time, but sadly, ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ is too often a case of “Plug Your Ears Up” and a record best avoided.

June 2022