Vaura wallow in darkness, psychological torment on chilling new ‘The Missing’

VauraWith it getting cold and darker much earlier here on the East Coast of the United States, it’s a fantastic time to immerse oneself in music that follows suit and feels like it’s ushering in the blackest months of the calendar year. You don’t have to play pulverizing, wintry black metal to achieve that.

Brooklyn’s Vaura are just perfect for November. Their incredible new record “The Missing” got delayed a few weeks from late October to next week because of a pressing plant issue, but maybe that was a spiritual machination as well. These guys do have a metallic edge to them for sure, and their members have experience in such bands, but they do a lot of darkwave, goth, post-punk, and early ’90s indie rock as well. It all mixes together organically and intoxicatingly, and it’s so purely dark yet tantalizingly catchy that you may find yourself wallowing in the murk. These hooks—and holy shit, and there plenty of them—will carry you on your way, ensuring you know you have a friend in darkness.

vaura coverJosh Stawn (formerly of Blacklist and Religious to Damn) is on guitars and, most importantly, vocals. His deep, soulful, pained singing is worth the price of admission alone, and he has one of those voices that you follow from beginning to end because, mentally, you have no choice. He’s perfectly suited for this sound. Joining him is a well-seasoned cast in their own right including guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia), bassist Toby Driver (Kayo Dot, Asva), and drummer Charlie Schmid (also formerly of Religious to Damn and The Diggs), and they make a powerful unit that’s delivered two great documents so far (2012’s “Selenelion” was released by Weird Records) that go beyond heavy metal’s borders. But if you have an open mind, a true love of captivating music, and some darkness within you, you’re bound to love every second of this thing.

The title cut opens this collection, charging into the open, with clean singing from Stawn, deep, churning guitars that sound watery and drizzly, and some moments that might make you think of 1980s Rush. “Incomplete Burning” blasts open on a black metal wave with stunning riffing and horribly dark melodies. The vocals drip with emotion, and the band hits on that darkwave feel that makes the song cold and brooding. “The Fire” opens like a frost-covered morning, when it’s too early to digest the sunlight but you have to keep moving forward. The song blows apart with blasts beats that power the tempo, but the guitars feel more melancholy and remorseful, all of this complemented by Strawn’s moody singing. “Mare of the Snake” changes things up a bit with some acoustic guitar taking over and a poppier feel to the vocals, though it’s still foreboding overall. “Pleasure Blind” gets back down the business with a wintry ambience and downright icy melodies, and as the song moves along its way, it picks up more progressive tendencies, something that pops its head up more as the record goes forward.

“Passage to Vice” is clean and eerie, with a strange alien effect on Strawn’s voice, and it’s one of the handful of times the band sounds like early Queensryche. I love the sci-fi edge to this one, and it currently sits as my favorite cut on the record. “The Things That We All Hide” already has an ominous title, and the music follows suits feeling mysterious and slightly threatening. “Braced for Collapse” turns the tide of the record and displays more of their metallic tendencies, as Strawn lets loose a brutal howl after the song blows open, and he positions questions such as, “What gets you off, dear? Are you power hungry?” as he sings like he knows the answer and is just poking to enflame the injuries. The song reminds me a lot of labelmates Atriarch. “Abeyance” is even nastier, with drums crashing, vocals switching from yelling to grisly growls, and the track drowning in black sounds. Closer “Putting Flesh to Bone” is the longest cut at 7:30 and feels like a nightmare in which you’re semi-conscious but from which you’re unable to shake fully awake. The song feels cold and dreary, with everything trickling along slowly, calculatingly, and as it builds into a bigger beast, it starts to get creepy and robotic. “We will never be the same,” Strawn observes in one of the song’s final minutes, and really if you immerse yourself fully in this record and take it where it wants you to go, the line certainly rings true.

“The Missing” might not be the heaviest or loudest album you’ll hear this year, but it might be one of the most psychologically scarring. Nothing feels comfortable psychologically with the messages conveyed in these songs, and when the skies grow darker earlier and your mind starts to doubt you again, you’re likely to more fully understand from where threes guys are coming. It won’t be bright and warm again for a long time, all the parties are over, and it’s time to wallow. You’d be hard pressed to find a better dark companion for these times than Vaura and their stunning second album.

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