The modern metal conversation has never really felt all that accommodating for Bombus, a band who’ve often fallen outside of any specific waves of sub-genre-driven hype to generally plough along at their own pace and do things their own way. And for a band who aren’t as dictated by stylistic cycles as so many others, they’ve done a good job at what they do, doubling down on the straightforward, more classic metal ethos while still being able to remain contemporary, something that’s historically proven to be a more severe stumbling block than many would predict. However, it’s also possibly the explanation for why Bombus are still something of an underground prospect; the footholds to steady themselves with haven’t been as plentiful, and thus it’s not too surprising to see an album like Vulture Culture seemingly come out of nowhere despite being their fourth full-length to date.
It’s not even that Bombus are a bad band either; if anything, Vulture Culture remains consistently decent in its ideas and execution for another album that’s bound to keep existing fans happy. But with every listen, it becomes more and more apparent that Bombus’ hook just isn’t showing itself this time around beyond a couple of scant moments, and despite them still being able to move forward with a progressive but traditionally-rooted sound, they don’t really hit that sweet spot that allows it connect on a wider level. What they’re doing is certainly good with moments that show real talent, but it’s not exactly the fantastic display that, to be brutally honest, Bombus need to come out with at this stage.
It’s actually rather easy to zero in on where things don’t necessarily align as well, as for all of their movements towards grandeur and a grizzled, growling tone that they can actually pull off rather well, Vulture Culture can struggle to bolster itself with the prominent hooks that this sort of metal needs to truly fly. They get there to an extent, sure; for the longest track here, A Ladder – Not A Shovel is fantastically concise and fast-moving, and the distinctive stomps of Mama and Two Wolves And One Sheep do have some pleasing crunch to them, even if the latter is about a hair’s breadth from being almost unworkably cheesy in both its writing and Feffe Berglund’s vocal bellows that feel more than a bit put-on. Even beyond that, Bombus’ instrumental core is incredibly solid in its own right, with a formidable guitar tone throughout and a sense that, with an even greater amount of streamlining, there could be a genuinely fantastic metal album ready to break out of this one. But that’s unfortunately not the case, as past a point, the flagging on Vulture Culture is palpable, with an approach to song-crafting that doesn’t feel as focused or potent, and a lyrical throughline that, while pushing Bombus out of their comfort zone in an exploration of widespread, more humanistic themes, isn’t all that engaging on the whole. It all works fine as a metal album to have on and enjoy for the virtues of it being a metal album, but it doesn’t take much digging for the cracks to begin to show, and that can be a problem especially with the simpler overall template that Bombus have attached themselves to.
That’s not to say that Vulture Culture is bad though, despite its shortcomings. It certainly could be better, and the fact that Bombus themselves have done so in the past is testament to that, but there’s enough in the way of solid moments to anchor everything down to make this at least worth a listen. That’s a qualified recommendation, of course, and when the gulf in quality does feel as noticeable as this, that’s entirely necessary, but there’s worse metal out there than this, and Bombus are at least pushing ahead with a relatively modern take on a sound that has the potential to fail in spectacular fashion. That alone makes Vulture Culture a victory, even if it is an extremely qualified one.
For fans of: Motörhead, Backyard Babies, Volbeat
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Vulture Culture’ by Bombus is out now on Century Media Records.