“Blackened death” or whatever you want to call it seems to be the genre du jour this year, and I’ll be the first to admit the scuzzy, filth-ridden sound is not a favorite for me. The switch hasn’t clicked in my head that seems to be the default position for so many online writers who fawn over this kind of thing (there’s a reason I didn’t review the latest from Triumvir Foul), but I keep trying to crack it, to find some hook or jagged spike I can latch onto and wallow in the muddied waters with the rest of you.
So, biases and trepidation laid out, let’s take a listen to the debut from Vesicant, Shadows of Cleansing Iron.
Named after the blistering agent used in chemical weapons in WWI, Vesicant came out of New Zealand, releasing a two track demo in 2014. At the time a three piece made up of Profanum on guitars and vocals, Carnifex on drums and Pravus on bass and vocals the steady style of gnarly death metal with an blackened, almost doom bent was well on its way. “Dissension Hammer” in particular boasts an evil, dodging middle section that oozes with dread and barely concealed disgust. Feedback mixes with over the top distortion and gain to mask a lot of the subtleties, but the songwriting is pretty solid, and isn’t used to hide any inadequacies in the playing. After the demo the band became a duo, with Profanum sharing lyrical duties with new drummer Mordance, who also took over on vocals for Shadows of Cleansing Iron.
So let’s get into it. Right out of the gate opener “Blood Miller” crackles with more high end than anything on the demo. It’s a furious, almost devastating attack where the drums lead the guitar into an array of rhythms and riffs, moving from machine gun like staccato bursts to more traditional doom-laden lead lines. “Shadow of Death” starts slower, with a wicked melody that opens into brief bursts of frantic action before diving back into more turgid waters. Elsewhere tracks like “Uncoiled Desolator” and “Carnage Ascended” do little to vary the formula, but there’s enough there to discern a seriousness of intent and ability that makes the album work without getting tiring.
The lyrical content stems from the band’s obsession with WWI, specifically with the concept of fear and the channeling of that fear into action, taking as its inspriation novels of the war such as Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel. I’ll have to take thier word for it, since most of the vocals sound like they’re emanating from the bowels of Hell. So in this way the vocals work as another instrument in the arsenal, and do a great job of adding to the mayhem and menace.
Am I turned around? Is this something I’m going to blasting from my speakers day in and day out? Probably not, but more than anything else in this vein Vesicant and Shadows of Cleasning Iron in particular have shown me there’s merit in the style, and places where it can go. Here’s to the band, may they never falter in their pursuit of the ugly side of things…