Say you’ve never heard of Vitamin X. You’re perusing the record store and you’re flipping through the “V” section (maybe you’re looking for some Vanilla Fudge, who are we to judge in this hypothetical record store?) and nestled between the Vinnie Vincent Invasion and that Vixen album you always liked you come across this album cover and you make a judgement call as to genre. I don’t know what you’re guess would have been, but hardcore thrash crossover punk would NOT have been mine, which makes the fact that Age of Paranoia is not only that but a killer example of the genre kind of wonderful. It’s a ripping record that invokes everything that drew me to punk as a kid and a great surprise as we head into the halfway point of the year.
Shame on me for not knowing about Vitamin X sooner; the Holland-based band has been steadily putting out music since the late 90s, recording with the likes of Steve Albini on their last two albums. The template has been pretty solid from the get-go: hardcore punk and thrash steadfast in its adherence to the past with enough bounce and energy to never feel dated. Check out “Raincoat” from their 1999 Once Upon a Time 7′ and tell me you don’t feel that pulse quickening, despite being almost 20 years old. Think Iron Reagan and D.R.I. injected with a steel rod in the spine straight from the Circle Jerks. And if you need a starting place before plunging into the aural delight of Age of Paranoia you can do a lot worse than check out the two previous full lengths to get a taste of what the band brings to the table. Both 2008’s Full Scale Assault and 2012’s About to Crack are overflowing with neck snapping, pogo-inducing blitzes that feel right at home in either 2018 or 1982. The band excels at catchy riffs that go by at just under the speed of light, ensuring you’re fully aware as your head is being ripped off. Although, come to think of it if the riffs were faster than the speed of light you were know you’re head was being ripped off before it actually was? If there’s a low point, it’s that in the last decade they’ve only managed to release three full length albums, but one listen to Age of Paranoia assures me the wait was worth it.
Gone is Albini on the boards, but after the first 10 seconds of “Modern Man” kicking off Age of Paranoia you realize the trick of the Vitamin X is in the attack: it doesn’t matter if a master or a broken tape machine is recording the band – the attack is going to come through loud and clear. At 16 tracks and 29 minutes things go buy in an obscene rush, but there are still a multitude of highlights easily called out. Whether it’s the ear worm refrain that accompanies “No One” (my early favorite) or the callback to classic riffs on “Short Circuit” there’s never a dull moment on the record. Its’ the kind of record you immediately play again after it ends, just to get another taste.
From a performance perspective everything is (of course) tight as a drum and running on all cylinders. You can’t succeed in this genre if you’re not hitting “ridiculous” levels of sneer and attitude. There are moments on “Deranged Degenerate” where the guitars recall that singular tone of East Bay Ray from prime-era Dead Kennedys. But then jump into “Reverse Midas Touch” and you’ll swear you’re hearing the second coming of Ron Ashton circa Funhouse-era Stooges. What I’m trying to get at here is Age of Paranoia is a veritable cornucopia of cigarette-flicking gifts, and woe is the fool who turns away from it.
Is that what you thought when you saw that cover with the monstrous brain screaming out of two skulls blasting intestines and viscera from their empty sockets? I don’t know – it’s your dream…you tell me. All I can tell you is Vitamin X deliver the goods and them some on Age of Paranoia, and if you’re in the mood to wreck some stuff, you can do a lot worse than have this be your soundtrack.