Metal is a territory that has a lot of horrific imagery tied to it, and for outsiders, that’s mostly what they know about this form of music. Ultimately, a lot of it is really cartoonish, sometimes on purpose, and there are so many outlandish covers, song titles, and lyrics, it’s hard to be shocked or surprised by most of it. That’s not really a criticism. It’s just how it is.
I find psychological anguish and tangible horrors a lot more impactful, because these are things that actually could occur in one’s life. Yeah, I guess I possibly could wake up one day to find a skeleton eating my entrails, but I’m not really fretting that one. That’s one of the reasons I find Vastum so fascinating. Ever since their formation six years ago, the band has explored matters of sexuality and the horrors, pain, guilt, and terror that can go along with that terrain, as well as matters of abuse and psychological wounds. No, we aren’t talking cartoon eroticism here. You walk away feeling bruised and shaken, just like many of the would-be narrators in these songs who have seen things and suffered punishment that goes blind to many people. This is one of the things that really set Vastum apart from many of the other bands in death metal, and this is before we even dig into how their music sounds.
Vastum’s third record “Hole Below” is arriving, and it’s one of their darkest, most deranged collections in their already scathing discography. The follow-up to their excellent 2013 record “Patricidal Lust,” “Hole Below” contains six more tracks that dig way below the surface of subject matter most don’t even care to acknowledge. The band—vocalist Daniel Butler, guitarist/vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf, guitarist Shelby Lermo, bassist Luca Indrio, and drummer Adam Perry—turns out 37 minutes of bruising death metal twisted with morose visions, disturbing lyrics, and a sense that all is not right in the world in one of grimiest, most internally digested senses. You cannot walk away feeling good about yourself, and if there is suffering and degradation within you, don’t be surprised to see your own emotions come spilling out in a pool of piss as your guts twist inside of you.
Strangeness is present from the very start as “Sodomitic Malevolence” begins in a pocket of buzzing noise, with voices moaning in the background as if in misery. Once the track really gets moving, you’re blown over by guitars shredding away, grinding fury, and warbles and growls that trade off melting your face. The song manages to get even heavier toward the end of the track, with faster playing, a few moments of serenity, and the madness fading out. “Amniosis” is a death march from the beginning, with coarse growls gurgling, and the lead guitars breathing fire. The band mashes your fingers as they make their way down the path, with more deranged howls sitting behind the muck, and Abdul-Rauf ripping in with her authoritative, scary growls. “In Sickness and in Death” gets off to a slow maul, with both vocalists blending together to create an ugly, scary mix, and the band chugging ahead. The guitars singe what stands in front of them, while the muck bubbles to the surface and mars the scene, trudging hard to what ends up being a pretty eerie finish.
“Intrusions” has a mangling start, raging forward as Abdul-Rauf injects horror and violence into the song with her growls. The song lurches hard, with strong lead guitar work bubbling over top and some tasty thrashing landing. Detached speaking arrives, feeling like ghostly and chilling rants, and the back end of the song takes its time doing its damage. “Hole Below (A Dream of Ritual Abuse)” slips into a filth death groove, as the psychological torment spreads its wings and infects. The vocals scrape and expose bruised skin, while the band sets off all sorts of morbid color with their playing, leaving you a heaping pile on the floor. Closer “Empty Breast” is packed with pain and torment, as the guitar works commands the effort, and later the track folds into aggressive thrashing. The guitar work is outright fierce, as the vocals smear soot in your mouth, the music starts to set up a bizarre atmosphere, and the same strange noises that opened the record return, creating a disarming bookend. It’s a devastating, bloody exclamation point at the end of a morbid journey.
Vastum are one of the heaviest, most interesting, most disturbing bands in modern death metal, and much of that has to do with them poking into wounds that are very real and could happen to anyone. “Hole Below” is flat-out black-pit ugly, a drubbing serving of pain that could make you feel like you’re voiding fire and rolling in your own dirt. It’s a sobering, searing record that’s scarier and deadlier than any old death record poking at the bones of Satan or graveyard terror. That’s because this is the real, miserable thing.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vastum/440192535391
To buy the album, go here: http://www.20buckspin.com/collections/music