To the Death is the latest pitch-black, all-enveloping masterwork from Aotearoa New Zealand colossus Vassafor. The band’s third full-length is a mammoth work of esoteric artistry, which paints nightmarish scenes while imperious black and death metal are twisted into ever more mind-crushing forms. Vassafor churn through bone-chilling tracks as black magick and death worship reign supreme. Maelstrom riffs roil in a choking miasma, and To the Death‘s sinister atmospherics and guttural growls summon all manner of ungodly apparitions into being.
Vassafor’s music is reliably inhuman. Even better, the band cut through black metal’s sideshow shtick leaving confirmed atheists, like myself, wondering whether vast demonic forces might be gathering just out of sight. (And if those forces do exist, To the Death is just the kind of villainous call to arms that’ll herald destruction for us all.)
To the Death brings unyielding power to bear on its iron-fisted tracks. Vassafor mix a diehard reverence for ancient metal with an aberrant creative arc that recasts doom-choked black and death metal as the band carve out a distinctly crooked path. To the Death‘s 12-minute eponymously-titled opening track dives straight into a fathomless well of apocalyptic noise. Underscoring, from the album’s first seconds, that Vassafor’s latest opus is set to be as challenging as ever.
Lengthy dirges “Eyrie” and “The Burning íthyr” remain enthralling throughout as cryptic revelations and Stygian battles are fuelled by torrents of battering drums and guitars that rage within. To the Death is a masterclass in channeling palpable unease via visceral instrumentation, and Vassafor constantly ratchet the tension, remaining hellbent on shattering minds. No more is that apparent than on To the Death‘s 18-minute (and aptly titled) closing track, “Singularity”. The shadowy and serpentine trawl through crumbling netherworlds and collapsing stars has a gravity-strength weight that fans of Vassafor’s most immersive and engulfing hymns will revel in.
Elsewhere, the wicked requiems “Emanations from the Abyss” and “Egregore Rising” radiate insidious emissions as they traverse godforsaken hellscapes. Sinuous riffs, bone-cracking percussion, and throat-scoured howls emerge from thick brumes of necro nastiness (with Vassafor offering, as always, a glimpse into the soul-splintering void). What’s most impressive is that for all of Vassafor’s antediluvian inspirations – and for all the band’s brutal primitivism – Vassafor’s songwriting and performances on To the Death are always boldly creative.
The album is made all the more sonically decimating thanks to VK’s attention to detail when it comes to To the Death‘s bulldozing production. VK has plenty of studio experience working with bands such as Triumvir Foul, Witchrist, Diocletian, Tetragrammacide, Temple Nightside, Irkallian Oracle, and more. If you find the work of those bands too dense or too suffocating, then To the Death’s asphyxiating nature will likely prove off-putting too. That said, if you enjoy the crippling heaviness of those aforementioned bands, you’re going to relish To the Death‘s battering-ram tone. The album is highly abrasive, and often impenetrable, but VK wisely leaves room for moments of nuance and subtlety too.
Honestly, I could write a thousand more words about To the Death‘s ominous depths, but I’ll spare you that pain. Let me just end this review by reiterating a few points I’ve previously made about Vassafor.
Firstly, Vassafor’s music and vision are in perfect alignment. Obviously, you’re free to debate the existence of supernatural entities. But what’s not up for debate is the sheer Satanic strength that Vassafor convey. There’s no artifice in Vassafor’s intimidating utterances. When the band say their spirituality is “Satanic and absolute”, they mean it, and that’s evident in every single wicked-sounding second of To the Death.
The album is a triumphant Satanic statement and the consummate realization of Vassafor’s uncompromising creativity. More than that, To the Death reaffirms that Vassafor are masters of psychic and psychoacoustic warfare. Born from corruption and mayhem, To the Death wrenches open darkened gateways to reveal profane horrors hitherto unseen. The album is obliterating, and it makes zero accommodations for half-hearted fans. Vassafor demand total commitment as they drag you across acres of infernal terrain. Tempos shift from crawling to crushing as melodies are butchered and buried, and To the Death is a monumental testament to malevolence and ruin.
To the Death is the ill-omened black/death metal album to beat in 2020. Although, keep an ear out for Temple Nightside’s latest horrorshow, Pillars of Damnation, which is overflowing with similarly bestial brilliance and is due for release around the same time as Vassafor’s latest eldritch adventures.
To the Death is overwhelmingly violent, but like all of Vassafor’s previous releases, transcendence via bloodthirsty chaos lies at the album’s heart. Everything here – from To the Death‘s diabolic atmospherics to the album’s barbaric production and ruthless execution – is staggering in its intensity. All hail Vassafor’s pulverizing proficiency. Long may the black-hearted visionaries continue their remorseless voyage into the great beyond.