Vastum – Hole Below (2015)

Author: Arvind

Band: Vastum

Album: Hole Below

Label: 20 Buck Spin

“Sodomitic Malevolence”, the opening track of Vastum’s latest album Hole Below opens with spacious whispers and far-off intonations. This initiates a downward spiral into the grimy bowels of death metal, with Vastum leading the way into a squelching mass of oozing darkness. “Sodomitic Malevolence” sets the tone for the rest of Hole Below as an exploration of the uncomfortable, the nauseating, and the disgusting. Ordinarily, this might signal a musical palette consisting of slams, pig squeals and other trademarks of brutal death metal, but Vastum use this subject matter as a template around which they construct an excellent old-school death metal record that mixes the sickening riffage of fellow Bay Area death metallers Autopsy with the cavernous roars of Incantation. Vastum mark their own territory within this niche, however – each track gives off an uneasy aura, reminiscent of a weirdly sexual uncomfortableness, and a feeling of unease inside your own body where the boundaries are delineated clearly but you’re still not sure which part goes where. You know that feeling when you suddenly become acutely aware of the positions of your intestines? Where you become hyper-attuned to the proprioceptive urges and feverish contractions of your innards? Vastum certainly do. The track titles mirror this warped proprioception – titles like “Intrusions”, “Empty Breast” and “In Sickness and in Death” reinforce the theme of being out of place in your own skin, with weird sexual undertones that bely a fixation on the choleric underpinnings of the human body. It’s not just weird bodily functions either: there’s a psychological, otherworldly sense to tracks like “Amniosis” where echoed spoken words hang over a thumping death metal beat, the observations of a mind detached from the fleshy pulp of its own body.

This subject matter is no stranger to Vastum, as their prior effort Patricidal Lust dealt with many of the same topics. On that record, gross-out sexual deviance melded with gory death metal hysterics to create a particular strain of nausea. Hole Below continues the trend of intimate, sticky death metal that works on a more personal level than most death metal that uses sex, gore, and violence as subject matter. The extra bits of reverb on the vocals of both Daniel Butler and Leila Abdul-Rauf, along with the buried spoken word sections emphasize the psychological aspects of sex and violence that often go overlooked in favor of bloody schlock. This is accompanied by several sets of truly punishing riffs, which provide more than enough diversion for those that don’t pay attention to lyrics or overarching themes. Every track features several headbang-worthy moments, and though the overall tone doesn’t vary that much, the chugs are held together with enough psychological overtones that it doesn’t become overbearing or wear out their welcome. Instead, the guitars work alongside the putrid bodily reflections to create a nauseating aural assault. Together, both aspects of composition work together to ensure that Hole Below is an immensely uncomfortable listen (and I mean that in the best way possible).

  • Arvind

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