[Artwork by Laina Terpstra (no relation to Niki Terpstra)]
Death metal may forever be maligned by its detractors as simply “dumb.” In general, it’s an unfair label that reveals a shallow digging into what is actually a vast, global genre filled with people of all education levels, walks of life, street smarts and musicianship. While stalwart fans might relish in epithets such as “cave dweller” they are not performative of death metal as a whole. In particular, bands such as Vastum display an intelligence that belies simple musicality. Their musicianship, vocal ability, intricate lyrical themes and infectious riffs are second to none among the art form of musical expression. Their latest missive, Orificial Purge, is yet another gemstone in the crown that layeth upon their collective heads (masked by a myriad of graduation caps, degrees, and career achievements).
Whereas the most dissonant parts of a Vastum album previously were highlighted by the lyrical themes and internal struggles created by those lyrics, Orificial Purge is filled with contrasting, jagged and dissonant guitar harmonies between Leila Abdul-Rauf and Shelby Lermo that create and unending sense of tension (underscored by bass work by Luca Indrio) that’s enhanced by dueling vocals and the rhythmically deceptive drumming of Chad Gailey. Tracks like “Abscess Inside Us” balance the judo-like riffs so specific to the Vastum sound, with woven guitar lines, layered vocals and patiently looping drums to create a product fit for neck-snapping consumption. When the track isn’t lulling the audience into unbalanced soft ground, it’s slapping them in the face with harmonized riffs sharper than a double-bladed machete tearing through bay area overgrowth along Highway 1.
“Reveries in Autophagia” presents a more straightforward approach as it slowly plows ahead anticipating a main riff tighter than an unlubricated zentai with a stuck zipper. The production shines through, showing that even longtime producer Greg Wilkinson (Earhammer Studios) is up for the evolutionary maturation. The riffs saw and cut as limbs fall from corpses and guitar solos creep into the mix, supported by ambient vocalizations perfectly mixed and layered in the subterfuge. The track ends viciously as all instrumentation crescendos into a brutalization of the track’s main riff as it closes with a punch.
Finally, “His Sapphic Longing” builds itself into a marching pace, with Butler’s vocals tearing through the hellish firmament, tongue lashing at strings. Guitars and bass fire forth together, hacking out a groove that functions as the foundation of the track. Here, Vastum descends into some of the slowest slaughter they’ve produced to date. Simple, effective chord flicks set up the more complex, caustic, unsettling and altogether multi-tonal aspects that will make up the outro for not only the composition, but for this cohesive album as well. Interestingly, the outro acts perfectly as an intro to the beginning of the album, making hypnotic, repetitive spins of Orificial Purge exactly what the team of therapists ordered (along with regressive shock therapy, trephination and metrazol therapy).
So, when people say that death metal is silly, stupid or uninformed, simply point them towards the “V” section of your local FYE, Strawberries or other long-since-closed media retailer. There they will find Vastum releases that fly in the face of their invectives. (Particularly Orificial Purge.) They will find music that not only changes their opinion, but music that alters the very structure of their soul. They will find release for violent expression and long-repressed sexual “deviances.” And, should the chance arise, take these people to see Vastum live, where they will be treated with one of the best performances metal has to offer, and the single best live vocal performance in all of death metal.
Simply put: Vastum rules. Listen to Vastum incessantly and often. And if you get a break, go listen to one of the other projects that the members of this band are in (which include but are not limited to): Necrot, Acephalix, Hammers of Misfortune, Cardinal Wyrm, Atrament, Mortuous, FYRHTU and Ulthar, as well as Leila Abdul-Rauf’s solo project.