Vastum have been around for a few years now. I’m sure my perspective on them is a bit different from people not from California, but to a lot of people, they’re legends here. They’re possibly the single most venerated death metal band from our great state since Autopsy themselves to a lot of people, with a not small contingent that holds up their most recent album, Hole Below, as the single greatest death metal album since Graves of the Archangels. Their sound has always been rooted in massive and chunky mid-paced riffs, with a heavy focus on brutal rhythms and ignorant attacks- the heaviest parts of Demigod or Bolt Thrower with a hell of a lot less melody.
With the band’s third full length album (many people consider Carnal Law to be a full length because of the length and it being reissued on vinyl and CD down the line, but I believe it was originally intended to be a demo), Orificial Purge, the band sees themselves adopting some new pleasantly disturbing growth. Instead of each song approaching a zenith of sonic destruction, Vastum’s music has become more thoughtful; Hole Below featured a handful of more atmospheric sections with spoken word, and Orificial Purge features a hell of a lot more of them, and more varied composition in general.
Everything seems bigger and more expansive, with just as many huge riffs as before, but with a new focus on how the riffs build up, catchier vocal lines than ever, and a much more dynamic approach that may not appeal to modern caveman metal afficionados as much but that hits me harder. Where before a groove might have carried into a neck-snapping breakdown or just into another groove, there’s a new sense of grotesque purpose to the songwriting that feels really refreshing. “I On The Knife (Second Wound)” has some of the band’s fastest riffing to date but also some of the slowest, and the way the song crescendos into its bleak and reflective end is a perfect snapshot of the change that’s come over Vastum to such great effect.
“Fear of sacrifice, the knowledge of pain.
Fissured, known, the fist of truth will yawn.
Orgy, cross, light, crepuscular loss.”
The experimentation on the album becomes more apparent with repeated listens, and with focus. A disinterested listener juggling work or a forum might miss the two minute long intro leading into the title track, or the string intro to His Sapphic Longing. Melody and leadwork take a higher place in the compositional stew than ever but are offset by the remaining bulldozing caveman sensibilities, and small details carry more weight than ever. None of this is to say that Vastum has suddenly become Unaussprechlichen Kulten, but this new side to them is a welcome change.
As always, the guitars are huge in the mix, as are the vocals. The dual-vocal assault that Dan and Leila comes across as being far more important than vocals usually are in a death metal album, and carry sections that wouldn’t work instrumentally powerfully, tying the music together perfectly. Earhammer Studios has been Vastum’s recording home since Patricidal Lust for a good reason and the band’s sound is impossible to compare to anyone else save for the handful of people already cloning them. I wish Luca’s bass was a bit more separately audible, but given how massive the mix is, that feels like a small complaint on an album I otherwise have nothing to complain about.
A final note is that I really dig the artwork. Save for an alternate cover version of Patricidal Lust Vastum has stuck to monochrome since their inception, and color suits them as well as the artwork suits the album.