Post-structuralist thought is often endemic, but not a pre-requisite, to the collective victims of socially charged binary conflicts where the unwillingly cast outsider first boldly ventures alongside the momentum of the extreme. These conflicts create a mind-numbingly static state of prose in the world of extreme metal where the inspiring dissertations of twenty-something folk focus heartily on good versus evil, purpose over meaninglessness, dark versus light, and all of it’d require either domination and/or greater unequal structures to remain fueled. Against exactly what does a third, fourth, and fifth extraneous order persist to create the necessary dramatic tension? The morbid power fantasy has traditionally been the best-selling course for death metal but in 2019 the market lives for validation, no longer impressed by spectacle nor the dead serious actor. Today the prosaic wit of the modern extreme metal artist relies upon fusion of crossover’d theme and long-form narrative more often than not, splicing their lugubrious word-smithy as often as their outwardly worn influences. San Francisco, California based death metal band Vastum are an orotund mixture of horror and pleasure at face value, a consistent roar of ornately mid-paced atmospheric death metal that wields a noteworthy garrote of auto-erotic lyrical subversion. The quintet have written an appreciably heady, intellectual death metal record in ‘Orificial Purge’ that will easily win over fans of death/doom atmosphere and ripping classic death metal riffs.
A total of four six song, ~35 minute records now better reveal the well-considered vision of Vastum‘s output as uniformly consistent in quality and scope. Returning to their discography before the release of ‘Orificial Purge’ had left me wondering if what they’d done on ‘Hole Below’ (2015) needed further iteration. There was no real expectation for another album in that same style and the four year wait in between saw several extraordinarily different records released among their satellite projects. ‘Orificial Purge’ isn’t a departure from the core Vastum sound and this ends up being a great thing as they’ve further developed their own tonal niche, iterating in the most positive way possible. Call them caveman death metal if you’re so inclined but it’d never fit even at their most crusted post-Acephalix nascence,– Vastum formed in a state not dissimilar from today (see: ‘Carnal Law‘, 2011) with the brute of Incantation and Autopsy compounded by a healthy dose of crust punk spilling around the edges. That thread had taken a leap on ‘Patricidal Lust’ (2013) sans-crust affect and each album has focused on deepening their atmospheric impact without sacrificing the bulbous brutality of pure death metal since. ‘Orificial Purge’ makes the case for sustained quality quickly as the dedicated fan will see a record that expands into detail throughout that is twice that of certain pieces on ‘Hole Below’. It represents a resoundingly fresh high for their mid-paced death/doom metal sound.
The co-morbidity of sexual union and violent, sometimes cannibalistic, body-melting horror might not be enough of a double entendre to make you want to read the lyrics of ‘Orificial Purge’ but the point remains that the lyrical economy of each of Vastum‘s records continues a streak of the thoughtfully grotesque. With reverence for the lyrics themselves I have no personal takeaway from any deeper lyrical meaning therein, other than an appreciation for the complexity of their diction throughout the album and the especially effective imagery writ for “Abscess Inside Us”. Weaving together two distinct and capable vocalists on the same album is far less rare than it used to be but Vastum make themselves even more distinct with arrangements that avoid any unbearable vocal crossfire or direct semblance of others. “Dispossessed In Rapture (First Wound)” in particular has a lot of words to get out in the space of seven minutes and manages to be a major highlight on the full listen thanks to eerie spoken accompaniment on certain verses and plenty of the Bolt Thrower by way of Incantation style death metal they’re known for along the way. Does Vastum‘s sound still stand out? There are plenty of competitive bands pulling together many of the same mid-paced death metal shapes and sounds today but the charismatic and cerebral quality that Vastum carry themselves with pulls them ahead of that pack and it goes without saying, very few death metal bands manage this sort of distinctive voice in the process of their careers.
The staying power of these songs surely gets a boost for atmospheric values and grand attention to the details that stick, Vastum certainly never lacked in their understanding of the dynamics of death metal arrangements but… shouldn’t the draw be the riffs? Yes, and I’d say these songs represent some of the best work written between guitarists Shelby Lermo (Ulthar) and Leila Abdul-Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune) since ‘Patricidal Lust’ caught my ear back in 2013. It is tough to resist a track-by-track commentary because each of the six songs included reveal a different world of introspective mortality and some subtle stylistic references; I’d say they’re all worthy of consideration but I’d particularly gravitated towards “Abscess Inside Us” as it develops into a sweetly textural performance that matches that of the most recent Bastard Grave record. In this case it is the lead guitars that provide both hook and complimentary atmosphere. On Side B “Reveries In Autophagia” rolls in at a similar pace and hits upon a few riffs that feel redundant in the greater scope of the record but still manage to enhance the complex interwoven nature of ‘Orificial Purge’. The disassociative force of “Dispossessed In Rapture (First Wound)” and the death/doom beatdown that is “His Sapphic Longing” serve as mighty riff-crammed bookends for the full listen providing what is easily my favorite 14 minute block of Vastum yet and a real triumph of refinement from Earhammer Studios. I’d recommend starting with those tracks first and likewise suggest the pairing of the first and second ‘wounds’ to experience the rabidity of their opening third. In fact, I’d highly recommend this fourth Vastum release, it is unquestionably their finest album to date.
(Gaping Aura) 4.25/5.0
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