Vastum, by this point, are a household name in the burgeoning death metal underground, a status earned by the strength of their early output as well as just how consistent they have been, even if there have been some lineup changes along the way. With themes that range from violence to erotic horror, this is a band that doesn’t shy away from dabbling in the darker corners of the human mind but have always managed to do so in a way that never seems like glorification or celebration. Very much from the David Cronenberg school of violence where there’s no stylization to the horrors that befall those that witness just straightforward, uncompromising visions of the horrific. Approaching these topics without fetishizing them is where so many bands and certain sects of the genre have gone awry in the past but careful delivery and dedication have kept Vastum from falling into worrying deviance. Patricidal Lust and Hole Below are two such albums that expound on such topics and Inward to Gethsemane – with songs “Priapic Chasms” and “In Bed With Death” – is taking the same route.
If Vastum has proven anything over the course of their career, it’s that a band doesn’t need to constantly reinvent themselves to be one of the greats. The atmosphere that they employ has been consistent since the beginning: dense, foreboding, and anything but playful. This is a band that likes to press you down into the horrors which they concoct just to see how much you’ll squirm before you pass out. The aforementioned “In Bed with Death” opens the album and while the guitars, drums, bass, and vocals are all present and accounted for, it’s their collective effect that is the most notable. Some of that comes down to the production but it is mostly in the hands of the execution and the songwriting to accomplish this. The lurching riffs plod their way through the reluctant debauchery without a hint of glee and even the melodic solo near the end of this song feels more sadistic than playful. This song isn’t the exception, either.
“Stillborn Eternity” is a six-minute nightmare where vocalist Daniel Butler (one of my favorites in all of metal) barks curses across lilting riffs while guitarist and vocalist Leila Abdul-Rauf whispers a refrain adding layers of emotion to this feverish dream. While Vastum is anything but a doom band, the themes and overwhelming feeling of inevitable torment, misplaced guilt, and oppression are palpable all through every note that this band plays, even the (mostly) instrumental “Judas”. There’s just nothing cheerful about this band and Inward to Gethsemane is an album that fully revels in the dismal.
One of the reasons, however, that makes Vastum the entity that they are, is that they manage to make the recalling of these atrocities palatable and somehow enjoyable. “Vomitous”, the penultimate song, employs grooves, space, and a wee bit of bounce which adds a bit of pep to the end of the album, as does its predecessor, “Indwelling Archon”. The ending, however, is a horse of a different color. The near-eight minutes which close Inward to Gethsemane are some of the most harrowing stuff that Vastum has put to tape. Ethereal vocals, thundering double bass drums, and the hellish atmosphere that only this band can conjure. It’s a hell of a way to wrap up and if the six songs prior hadn’t worn you out, this final track will lay you to waste.
After four years, Vastum have returned. Inward to Gethsemane is a walloping album that employs the synergy of each component of the band working in hellacious harmony to exert the maximum force, blow after blow. Just as a boxer doesn’t simply punch with their fist, arm, or shoulder, the true uppercut comes from the legs, knees, hips, core, and yes the arms and fist. Vastum is a heavyweight contender that uses every part of the band in unison to deliver the most devastation.