Vastum
Hole Below

While driving to see King Diamond on their most recent tour I was playing 2015s Hole Below and discussing the record with my friend.  I had been listening to the album a hell of a lot and was finding it a little difficult to explain why I thought it was so enjoyable yet not particularly different, or the least bit flashy.   Technically, Vastum stopped at chapter 4 of the death metal how-to manual.   This seems a bit early until you peruse the chapter and find it focuses on the likes of Autopsy, and Incantation.   These bands wrote the music that produced a whole generation of fanatical metal heads and have influenced many new bands of the last five or so years.  They are the fried chicken dinner of death metal.   That is to say the ingredients aren’t complicated but the fundamentals are well understood and formulated to be addictively good.  A style of death metal with thickly battered guitar riffs that crackle as if they just hit the fry oil coupled with a dense atmosphere of grease smoke filling the room.  The sound of Hole Below leaves the speakers and settles on you reconstituting as a film on your face and arm hair, seeping ever so slowly into your pours and subconscious.

At the time of Patricidal Lust’s release it was widely received as an exceptional record but I regrettably slept on it.  A recent interview with Leila Abdul-Rauf, Vastum’s chief rebel angel, left me with an understanding that the title Patricidal Lust wasn’t simply chosen for its shudder-to-think factor.   Leila details that she and vocalist Daniel Butler work in the realm of psychoanalysis and therapy, respectively, at the very same institute.  Their lyrics, theme, and sound are saturated by the subjects of their professional surroundings.  It gives the brooding, cobweb obscured spectral projection of pure ego and buried mental depravity, that is Hole Below, depth of meaning.

After just the first few listens the album drove my imagination to form visions of a large, old building, Victorian of architecture, the layers of paint revealing age and decay (“Sodomitic Malevolence”).   It’s an academic center for psychological studies on the campus of some small but respected college deep into the hills of New England; A place where the strangeness of brilliant thought met the fringes of human psyche.  Its location, while not hidden, feels almost purposely forgotten.  Inside is an interior that you swear could have been designed intentionally to influence the subconscious and behavioral state of those that entered (“Intrusions”).  Wall coverings of red velvet-like fabric accented by black painted, engraved wood trimmings (surely inspired by the madly sketched black and red album art) are consistent throughout the building.  Focusing on them too long causes a slight vertigo effect (“In Sickness and In Death”).  Where the corners of the hallways and rooms met, they never seem to make a 90 degree angle.  Tracing the corners with your eyes while walking would again distort your balance.  One particular hallway contained the entrances for several rooms and ended with a window.  An intern once eerily mentioned that as many times as he had walked it, he never seemed to reach the window; as if the floor were a conveyer belt moving the opposite direction.  Guests and faculty of relatively sound mind could manage the oncoming dread and vague paranoia (“Hole Below”) that occurred over long stays, but for those classifiable as “unstable” the effects settle deep, and sustain much more sharply, resulting in unpredictable and violent behavior (“Empty Breast”).   It’s like a lost Giallo film from a director that suffered a mental break, and never pulled himself together enough to produce again, and Hole Below plays like a tribute to his legacy.

Since the first listen through Hole Below impressed me.  With successive listens I felt that the record really sunk into me, as opposed to having been “pulled” in by it. That difference may seem like one in the same but the dense atmosphere and creeping horrors that the songs weave are of a more manipulative and suggestive nature.   I could call out title track “Hole Below” as the standout song in terms of being quickly memorable, due mostly to the vocal hook that briefly rips itself free from the pummeling music, but It’s definitely necessary to listen from beginning to end.  To fully receive what the album has to offer is to allow its hypnotic dread to envelop you.  It’s relatively short length helps make that possible without fatigue.  There’s not enough praise that can be given to the production and tones.  Dense, hammering, crazy heavy riffs with drums that come from behind like a deviant stalker dragging their incapacitated victim up a flight of stairs.   Good luck scrubbing clean the moist gunk of human dust, insect carcass, and ectoplasm that coats each reverberating chord and snare strike; another case where the production elevates the written material.  Vastum are now two excellent albums into their life as a band and I don’t believe they’ve yet peaked.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mars Budziszewski
January 25th, 2016

Comments

  1. Commented by: Luke_22

    Nice review. I discovered this too late for year end list time but it would have been a strong contender. It is a monstrous album indeed.


  2. Commented by: Slaveborn/Mars

    Thanks. I didn’t see it appear on as many year end lists as I assumed it would. Then again, I forgot some good 2015 releases myself.


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