Vampire – Rex (Century Media)

Much like labelmates Tribulation, Vampire have moved from their rough-edged, proto-death metal roots to a more refined, velvet-wrapped sound as their career has progressed.

And while Rex isn’t an evolutionary leap from 2017’s aptly-named With Primeval Force, it is the work of a band growing more comfortable – and adept – at weaving spectral melodies into their urgent attack. Hand Of Doom’s reverb-drenched rasp remains, as do the searing, Dissection-style passages of blazing riffery (see Melek-Taus as exhibit A). Vampire’s dark heart is still pumping black poison through the band’s veins. The Swedes have lost none of their ghastly vigour.

But Gothenburg’s crypt-dwellers have plunged their incisors even deeper into classic 80s metal this time around, sucking up the lifeblood of Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and even (very) early Metallica and spitting it all over songs like Serafim and the imperious, towering title track.

Pandemoni is what might have happened if Cronos and Abaddon had teamed up with Hank Shermann and Michael Denner (it’s absolutely addictive), Moloch is dual-axe NWOBHM fed on high grade angel dust and Inspiritus revs up like a Priest/Fate motorcycle meet, belching jagged riffery and getting lost in the pure, unbridled abandon of heavy metal.

Anima’s slithering strut, meanwhile, takes the pace down and bar some splendid gothic fretwork from guitarists Black String and Sepulchral Condor, it doesn’t hit home as hard as the rest of Rex. To call it a misstep, though, would be to ignore the splendid Gothic tapestries weaved into its mid-section. And if you crave heads-down, blackened metal carnage, you can always skip back to Rekviem.

OK, Vampire already proved they could deliver the goods on With Primeval Force. Rex, however, shows that the band have grown substantially as songwriters since then – and they’ll reap fresh souls with this majestic opus.