Death metal as it always has been, as it always will be and at its absolute best is what bay area death metal outfit Vastum bring to the table. Same for their sexualized and erotic lyrics. Spoken not from the typical rape-culture focused lack of subtly lyrically plaguing some metal today (in genres like pornogrind, goregrind, brutal death metal, etc.). Rather, on Hole Below vocalist Daniel Butler crafts lyrics revealing a culture in which we are all victims of the dialectic. A surprisingly intelligent underbelly only serving to enhance what is an absolutely timeless and perfect work of death metal.
Vastum shares more than one member with Acephalix, often resulting in a sort of sister-band reference. But it’s not true. Vastum is markedly less crusty and less straight forward in terms of speed. Of course, sharing a vocalist (especially one so unique) and bassist (and formerly an additional guitarist) will make the comparison sensible and appropriate. But Vastum are the superior band (when compared to Acephalix’s 2012 Deathless Master their best work to date). Not a knock on Acephalix, Vastum is superior to most bands. Also making Vastum unique are the backing vocals and entrancing guitar work of Leila Abdul-Rauf (often known for her solo ambient work, her progressive work in Hammers of Misfortune) and Shelby Lermo.
Vastum made waves with their second LP, Patricidal Lust, released in 2013. Their Oedipal levels of sexual brutality were on full display. But unlike pornogrind and brutal death metal, Butler often placed himself in the victim’s eyes rather than fetishizing. That theme is continued on Hole Below. Perhaps lyrically more depraved and inwardly soul searching Hole Below creates a meandering, weaving journey through the abyss of the human soul (in the metaphorical/figurative sense).
Musically, Leila Abdul-Rauf and Shelby Lermo work effortlessly in concert with each forming a unified and complimentary string section. With thick, muddy chord progressions and sludgy but melodic cadences Vastum draws much of its influence from 90’s Bolt Thrower, easily heard on the track “In Sickness and in Death.” At other times, tracks like “Hole Below (A Dream of Ritual Abuse)” are more plodding, brutality edging towards similar era Cianide or Adramalech. Yet at other times, like on “Amniosis” the band shows respect for bands like Coffins and Winter with their more midtempo to downtempo assault.
Amid all the thickness, introversion and brutality, tracks like “Amniosis” provide the stunning guitar work of Leila Abdul-Rauf sometimes reminiscent of the genius that is Demilich. The drum work of Adam Perry, particularly his subtlety and rhythmic precision with double bass, is a perfect compliment. Syncing beautifully with Luca Indrio’s basswork creating a backbone of raw, pulverizing death metal. The music on Hole Below would be out of place at no time in metal’s history yet feels immediate and present. Something to be celebrated and praised.
There seems to be a mindset in metal right now that if an album isn’t 100% different from all that came before it, or isn’t so wacky that it defies categorization it’s not progressing metal and thus not worthy of a few bucks and the time spent listening to it. With vehement opposition to that theory, Vastum retain everything that we love so much about death metal—recalling what brought us into the fold in the late 80’s and early 90’s (or before). Listening to the progression of tempos and tension on “Intrusions” can make you feel young again—alive with what first made something in your mind explode and click with metal. And Vastum are neither derivative nor a caricature of old school death metal. Rather they pay homage to the roots while updating the themes surrounding the music. Adapting the best of death metal to our shifting and evolving political dispositions and concerns. Vastum is death metal. Timelessly and beautifully.