Horrors has been a part of death metal from the very beginning. We’ve been inundated with images of gore, entrails, blood, skulls, you name it, and all of it is there to spark an emotion, to make you feel something morbid, to excite you for the brutality of the music. But let’s face it: Cool as that stuff is, it’s not all that realistic when it comes to everyday lives. At least I hope not.
I’ve always found the psychological horror the most captivating and most terrifying. There’s nothing scarier than what can go on inside your head and what years and years of torment can do to the body, soul, and mind. That’s one of the things that struck a huge chord with me on Vastum’s debut “Carnal Law.” On the outside, with no research, it may sound like the band is writing about sexual depravity, and they are. But not of the slasher film, skeleton-feasting-on-a-female’s-genitals kind of way. Instead, they examine what’s going on in your head, how these things can form you and warp you as a human, and the very real, very scary things that go on in this realm every day. Some people go over the edge dealing with these issues. Some turn their darkness on other people. Some suffer in the panic waiting to break.
Vastum’s incredible second record “Patricidal Lust” goes even deeper into these issues. Let’s start with the title itself, something you might think is there just for shock value, to get death metal tongues wagging. But dig into the title song, what’s going on there, and the real, lifelike violence being portrayed that makes you realize it isn’t fantastical. These things happen, these thoughts occur, and even though the primary storyteller in the title track is carrying out something heinous and unthinkable to most, there seem to be very valid reasons beneath the surface. Fucked up reasons? Yeah, but that’s the point. We’re all wired differently, and there’s only so much we all can take before something that seems like the most outlandish action we can imagine becomes something we’re doing with our own hands. It’s nothing to celebrate. It’s something you should hope never crosses your mind.
That’s just scratching the surface of this record, and I encourage to absorb these six songs along with the lyric sheet to get the proper experience. It’ll make you ill inside, the portrayals of involuntary celibacy and the mental anguish that coincides with that, the guilt that is ingrained in so many of us when perverse thoughts or feelings inhabit our brains, and other real, physical suffering brought on by enduring these things, be it for real or in our heads. It also needs to be pointed out these are not pornographic songs. No one’s here to get off. But they are disturbing, probably as much as what’s on any other death metal record released this year, and the experience is like no other. You can decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
Musically, there is no question of this thing’s ferocity and power. At the front of this mighty group is Leila Abdul-Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune, Amber Asylum) on guitars and vocals and Daniel Butler (Acephalix) on vocals, as well as bassist Luca Indrio (also Acephalix, Lawless). The rest of the lineup remains in a state of flux currently, but on the record Adam Perry handled drums and Kyle House played guitar. The creative process itself was something of a nightmare for the band as their producer Jef Davis was killed in a motor vehicle accident, robbing the band of a collaborator and friend. Luckily, Greg Wilkinson came up and carried this album to its conclusion and did a damn admirable job getting the best out of the scarred, damaged songs.
“Seasons in the Claustrum (The Libidinal Spring)” gets the record off to a filthy, gritty start, smothering the thing with doom and menace, with dual vocals splattering the ugliness. Butler’s and Abdul-Rauf’s vocals mesh together brilliantly, each conveying the terrors with their own perspectives, and the nightmarish speaking that slips in at the end just chills everything over as guitars blows open the finish. “Enigma of Disgust” is heavy with guilt and dark feelings, as guitars chug and the voices add enormous punch. Lines such as, “Inherit the shame, disrobe in disgust, mask the odors of your lust,” deliver the heavy psychological burden and pain with great impact, ground under the deeply lurched growls. The guitars sizzle and penetrate, drilling into your mind and perhaps seeking that place inside of you that you’ve kept hidden and don’t want out. “3 AM in Agony” speaks more to the physical pain brought on by acting on one’s inhibitions, and maybe I’m reading this wrong, but it seems like the pained thoughts of one given an unwanted ailment by the very person they lie alongside. I get that from the mention of dysuria and the lines such as, “Drops of fire flush away from me, alone in my infection.” It writhes in pain lyrically, while musically the song hits a pestilence-ridden death groove that’s easy to get sucked into, and growls and wails that convey the pain of admissions such as, “Drops of fire slice me where I came.” Not comfortable.
“Incel” is torture of a different variety, telling of the mental torment of involuntary celibacy. This is nothing that comes from religious guilt or some sort of moral clause, but instead a total lack of connection that robs one of release. The music is fittingly suffocating and harsh, with chugging guitars dissolving into sections of abject fury that threaten to immolate. The vocals howl, the guitars slip into murk, and the track eventually dissolves into eerie shadows. The title cut is one of the most disturbing cuts yet, and one of the darkest, most morbid in the death metal annals. That’s no hyperbole. Sit with these lyrics, lines including, “Spill your seed into my father’s tears, his suffering all over my body,” and, “Emergence from his rectal cage, to breathe the stench, the air,” and you get a true sense of the terrible happenings that led to such decision. These are no “high-five your bro” style of death metal lyrics, but instead ones that should cause you to hang your head and feel sorrow for someone who had to live with such torment. The song itself is chilling and violent, with incredible guitar lines that work alongside each other like vintage Slayer, and while there is a weird warmth to some of the music, that’s really a misleading sense. The song just crushes you, and it’s the most savage thing on this record. Closer “Repulsive Arousal” is full of ghostly, horrifying reflections on undesired nocturnal emission, psychological submission, and, again, guilt. The tempo is devastating, stained with charcoal, and grisly. Once things go into sludgy mud at the end, there’s no other choice than to give in and be suffocated by the song’s will and power. Kind of like what the figures in the dream do to the narrator.
I feel like I could go on and on about this record and its themes, and I hope I haven’t interpreted anything incorrectly. But that’s part of what interests me about dissecting records like this because it gives you the torture inherent in death metal, but also something to roll around in your head to consider what it means to you. Bottom line musically is this is a savage, infernal collection that’s the second straight great effort from this band, one of the most unheralded in all of death metal. People need to know this band and appreciate their power, and even if the themes are uneasy, they are things we need to realize are real and happen every day. This is one of the scariest death metal albums of the year, and absolute must hear, and another bloody step in this great band’s tormented path.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vastum/440192535391
For more on the label, or to buy the album, go here: http://www.20buckspinshop.com/
There is an incredible juxtaposition between the music and lyrics. The lyrics are intelligently written and evocative. That makes them even more disturbing than if they had been written haphazardly. But then you have Leila and Daniel both knocking it out of the park vocally over some fun and lively-sounding music. This isn’t some slow-paced bore of an album, but even though they’re not really pushing the tempo that fast, it is consistently engaging.
Excellent review. I think you nailed all the interpretations correctly. Apparently, the band (or whoever runs their Facebook) agrees.
I think you nailed the sound as well. Thanks for adding your thoughts. I feel like it’s a needed extension to what I wrote, so hopefully everyone checks out what you said. Thanks for reading.