Ritual, by definition, is a sequence of activities constituting of various and diverse actions and gestures including performances, carried out by either an individual or a group of people. Often affiliated with, but not limited to, traditionalism, religions, symbolism, and invariance, the scope runs from abstract and irrational to approachable and quotidian, and wherever any of these affairs settle on that scale is up to their undergoer and/or beholder, determined by their singular stance. Regardless of whether examined and analyzed from a psychological point of view or from one spanning the spectrum of societies and their features, these acts are an integral part of human nature, equally conflicted as the term itself.
If you now find yourself picturing a hazy scene with people in robes upon altars, shiny daggers here and sacrificial virgins there, you’d be heavily misled by the contemporary media and entertainment, and you definitely would not be alone on that. But what’s important to grasp and understand, is that something as mundane as brushing your teeth, clothing, greeting someone, or shaking their hand, is as much of a ritualistic trait as funerals, weddings, and other familiar events are. While it’s definitely a leap from a gentle nod to a ceremonial immolation, the two extremes are connected. Existence, by definition, is a sum of threaded rituals.
The inclusion of sound is a characteristic attribute that forms the baseline to a multitude of these occasions, and certainly a defining and fundamental backbone to our featured artist for this week, The Vomit Arsonist. Founded nearly twenty years ago by its sole member Andrew Grant, The Vomit Arsonist is what I’d call the aural embodiment of everything said above. Under this moniker, he’s producing intense and vivid soundscapes by uniting tendencies from paced harsh noise and power electronics with abstract textures, drone elements, and a touch of black metal, and the result is nothing short of abrasive punishment. The road to the current tone and sound took a while, as when I inquired Grant about starting the project, more precisely when and why, he mentioned how it all began twice.
‘There’s actually two questions here: when it started, and when I started taking it seriously. It started around 2001-2002, as an excuse to create the most obnoxious, unlistenable music I could come up with. I took a lot of influence from Dadaist and absurdist performance art without ever doing anything nearly that interesting. It was a very different thing then. 2005-2006 is what I consider to be the ‘official’ birth of the project: 2005 is when I moved to Providence, RI and The Vomit Arsonist became my main focus. Let’s call it 2006, the year that my first physical release Axiom came out on Voidstar Productions.‘
Aside from the mentioned stylistic outlines, The Vomit Arsonist‘s output can also be characterized as Witch house; a niche genre based on chopped, screwed, and altered beats, usually occult-flavored themes, obscure samples from sources unknown, and ethereal unintelligible vocals. By means of this open-ended orientation united with the aforementioned frames, The Vomit Arsonist‘s sonic concoction is highly atypical, and hard to wrap one’s head around to during the first listens. How this all came to be, simply stems from Grant’s interest and fascination towards all of these separate styles.
‘The fact that I’m a fan of these genres individually certainly helps. I’ve always tried to make music that I would want to listen to, something that I would seek out on my own if I wasn’t making it myself. For a long time I would put myself in a box, like ‘someone said it’s power electronics, so it has to sound like this’ or ‘you’re making death industrial, it needs to have this element and that element’, but that gets boring and I ultimately realized it was only hindering what I wanted to do. I make music that sounds good to my ears.‘
The artificial need to have this and that on one’s doings is undoubtedly one of the reasons why many artists, those especially on the similar ballpark as The Vomit Arsonist, get lost amidst the oh so familiar grey mass, falling between the lines, exiting the musical world as silently as they entered it. That’s also why stumbling upon indomitable and uncompromising acts tends to always feel fresh and fascinating, producing high levels of gratification and authoring deserved interest. Granted that they’re infrequent by nature, but at least you’ll damn well know one when you find one.
The Vomit Arsonist‘s first few releases reside in the less atmospheric end of the scope, with the main emphasis lying on droning power electronics that inflict a sort of a meditative state of mind. Albeit on the full-length Wretch you can already hear where the act would be more or less headed in the future; on the preliminary and subsequent EPs, respectively titled Reciprocation and The Final Page., harsh distorted chaos reigns unparalleled. And while the overall tone has experienced shifts throughout the years, the undertones have remained more or less the same. This is also evident in Grant’s response to my question about his personal goals and the driving force behind everything.
‘The goal has changed a lot over the years. My go-to answer to this question for many years was catharsis, but the nature of catharsis implies letting something go, and I’m not doing that. Just because I put some thoughts or emotions into a song or performance to ‘get it out’ doesn’t mean that those things are gone – it’s usually quite the opposite. The simplest answer is that I like things that make me feel bad. My favorite movies and books have always been the ones that make you feel like shit when you’re done with them. I saw an interview with John Waters where he said ‘I want to feel bad when I come out of a movie‘… That’s what I want to do with music. I like to make music that evokes not just feelings of sadness or anger, but desolation, loneliness, hopelessness, bleakness. It used to be ‘I feel bad, and I want other people to feel bad too.‘ While that sentiment is still there, it’s now become more of a conscious decision to be overwhelmingly negative, regardless of how I feel. It puts a smile on my face and I’ve never been able to pinpoint why that is.‘
Speaking of evolution, the sheer amount of releases certainly smooths out that particular curve, since upon tracing my way up, down, and sideways through The Vomit Arsonist‘s discography, I noticed that despite the different aesthetics of each major release, as in full-lengths, everything clicks together by means of smaller releases stitching up the gaps between them. It was especially interesting to realize that already on the first releases you can hear hints and resonances of the later efforts, the journey from one point to the other just wasn’t linear. Still, even though in the grand scheme of things it would make sense that Grant would’ve had a greater and clearer plan when it comes to determining the direction of each release, the truth lies somewhere between conscious decisions led by spurs of the moment, and experience.
‘I’d say mostly time and experience, but it is a little bit of both. I’ve always tried to focus on how I can make things better, more interesting, etc. My tastes have varied over the years, and I’ve changed personally, so it makes sense to me that the music would follow suit. I’m very glad for the evolution in my sound, and while I don’t dislike my early material, I much prefer what I’m doing now. It feels more at home. This is where I always wanted to be, it just took some time and a lot of experimentation to get there. For the first time in my life I feel something akin to accomplishment in terms of my art. I’m doing something I’m proud of, despite how negative it all is.’
All of this evolution talk leads us to The Vomit Aronist‘s most recent full-length, That Which Has Been Forgotten. I feel that this album in particular manages to showcase every single facet of the act’s existence, yet it doesn’t sound like a recap, not in the slightest. The preceding albums Only Red and Meditations on Giving Up Completely demonstrated a significant step up in terms of production and variety, and it all came into the utmost full fruition on That Which Has Been Forgotten. Ever since from the very beginning, The Vomit Arsonist has had a unique approach and sound, but those were somehow amped up even more on this release.
“Bliss / Wrath” opens up the album’s cacophonic world with a haunting resonance, paving the way for the immersive terror that now finally unveils itself fully. Tracks like “To Not Exist”, “Slow Degradation”, and “Find a Way”, simply represent the very best that these genres can offer. The choking atmosphere intensifies throughout the entire runtime, staying consistent despite discovering some peculiar nooks and crannies every once in a while. Vast dynamics and increasingly varying unconventional instrumentation top off this cohesive effort I’d characterize as one of the best albums in this corner of the musical world I’ve ever heard.
‘I like music that’s oppressive… overwhelming in terms of sound, both in volume and the frequencies used. Layers and layers of heavy bass or a shrill, piercing high frequency has always sounded good to me. I think a lot of it is things I’ve picked up along the way: early work was very noisy but also had that droning, heavy bass element, and that’s because I was listening to a ton of that stuff at the time, drone specifically. It always seemed like a great foundation to me. As time has gone on, I still utilize those aspects, but I’ve figured out other things along the way that I want to incorporate. I started programming drums more, I’ve added bass and guitar at times, scrap metal, experimenting with different reverberations and physical spaces, and silence/minimalism have also played a huge part. The approach I take is very visual; I get the image of some kind of landscape in my mind and I try to create what I think it would sound like. It’s like scoring a film that doesn’t exist, which, incidentally, is something I would love to do.‘
Above I mentioned the cohesiveness of things on That Which Has Been Forgotten, but that point has been very much integral and consistent throughout the years. With this in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that most of The Vomit Arsonist‘s material is produced in one sitting, when it comes to individual songs at least.
‘It’s a lot of production work, honestly. I’ll record tons, a bunch of source material, isolate samples and loops and often build something from the ground up that way. Most of the time I make a decision to carve out a day to spend writing and recording stuff. It doesn’t always work. If I try to force something, I just get frustrated and scrap whatever it is I’m working on. A lot of times I’ll get an idea, run down to the studio and record something really quick, then go back to it days or weeks later. I do a lot of work in pieces; I’ll have four songs that are basically done, but they need vocals, so I try and get all that done in one shot. Sometimes it’s just sitting with a synth or a barrel full of metal and contact mics and effects pedals, experimenting and fucking around until I find something that sounds good. Writing and recording are pretty much always done at the same time. I don’t use much equipment where I can save a patch or a sequence or a file, so it’s important that I record an idea when I have it.‘
And before moving on from the subject, the fact that The Vomit Arsonist has always been, and will always be, a one-man operation, adds even more weight to the importance of versatility, and in Grant’s case, easily ensues in amazement for the listener. While the project is a singular entity, it’s the inclusion of close friends and like-minded people that sort of fills in the vacancies of external opinions and ideas.
‘Doing everything alone is great because I’m the only one I have to answer to, and it’s horrible because I’m the only one I have to answer to. Sometimes you need someone to tell you what to do or offer some criticism or approach something from a different angle, you know? I have a good network of like-minded friends and musicians I can bounce demos and ideas off of, which is an invaluable resource. It’s rare that someone besides me hasn’t seen or heard something before it gets released; I’m not confident enough to release anything without getting someone else’s opinion first, but I think that’s ultimately a good thing.‘
To be perfectly honest, I wondered how That Which Has Been Forgotten could’ve been topped in any capacity, and felt slightly nervous about digging into its follower, the None of Us Are Worth Saving EP released in May of 2020. This is where the mentioned, serpentine-like evolution comes to play again, as the EP continues on the firm path built by its precursor, but in a transformed manner; the whole effort is surprisingly, dare I say, soft. But even then this perversely mellow effort is far from being a watered down version of the act itself, as it doesn’t compromise the intensity one bit — quite the contrary, actually.
The tension might be even stronger than on the preceding album, and is produced by clearing out most of the ugliest low frequency rumbles and layers of distortion, and replacing them with eerie swells, paced pulses, and dominating vocals. The latter department stands out in a whole new light this time, giving the EP its own signature characteristic. This is most tangible in tracks like “Darkness Implacable” and “Absolute Truth”, where the vocals take the lead and are matted with elements meant mostly to bolster them. And voilà, again we have at hand a release that sits in to the continuum perfectly, without being an iteration of any of the past works, standing on its own, and having its own unique mood.
Looking into the theme of None of Us Are Worth Saving, Grant states that it’s loosely based on The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The novel, and later on film, is based on a time tailing an apocalypse, describing the survival of a father and son, and their trek through the remaining wasteland. Themes and concepts have always played an important role in The Vomit Arsonist‘s output, which is rather self-explanatory, given the thought-provoking and at times cinematic execution. Apart from the visual and literary influences, other music and simply life of course all add to the pool of impression and causation from where to draw ideas from.
‘My musical influences have remained fairly consistent over the years, acts like Brighter Death Now, Navicon Torture Technologies, Khanate, IRM, and Atrax Morgue being of the largest influence. I’ve done a few releases inspired by films; None Of Us Are Worth Saving on Cloister Recordings was influenced by Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, and Nature is Satan’s Church, the collaboration album with Theologian, was inspired by Lars Von Trier’s film Antichrist, so film and books are important to me. The biggest thing is just life experiences, though. The vast majority of my work is autobiographical and fairly self-centered, I often detail specific events that I’ve gone through or had to deal with, none of which were positive. It’s like chapters in a book. More recently, however, in an effort to be slightly less self-destructive, I’ve been trying to hone the negativity I feel towards myself and push it outward… which is still destructive, just not self-destructive. I’m trying to focus more on the issues and problems I see, the things that make me feel sick in the world and how I can interpret those and filter them through my lens.‘
Issues and problems on a global scale have obviously been nothing but increasing and abiding during the past year, but I still think that music is one of the most important things to pull us through these dire circumstances. I’ve personally noticed how specific artists and styles have spoken to me on a whole new level, The Vomit Arsonist being one of them. Sometimes it’s crucial to go through turmoil and anguish to be able to appreciate and value certain things.
The past year has affected pretty much all of us, and The Vomit Arsonist is no exception to that. Still, it’s pleasant to hear that Grant has been able to devote his time into creating rather than regressing, as it’s easy to get caught up to the latter now that the music world norms and standards have basically all been blown to shit.
‘Early in April 2020 my state went under a shelter-in-place order that lasted until July. I worked from home for that whole time, and since the nature of my day job doesn’t really lend itself to not being at work, I had a lot of free time. I’m really thankful for that, because I was able to start (and finish) a lot of new things that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise, simply due to time constraints. I really miss playing live. I was getting really burned out on live shows in the last few months of 2019, but in January 2020 I had a sense of rejuvenation and I decided I was going to focus more on live stuff. Getting a better handle on my equipment, adding new elements, new videos, new concepts, things like that. I had two festival dates booked. Obviously, those were cancelled and everything ground to a halt pretty quickly, so I’ve just been going on with writing and recording as usual. Even if things are deemed ‘safe’ and shows/festivals start happening this year, I can’t imagine myself being comfortable with it until 2022. Who knows. I’m going to keep doing what I do until I get tired of doing it.‘
This positive sentiment feels like a good place to end to, if you’ve managed to read and somewhat follow our blabbering this far in the first place, that is. All that’s left for me to say anymore, is that go listen to The Vomit Arsonist to experience how something so ungodly violent and disturbed as Grant’s concoctions can actually result in release, relief, and utmost positive vibes. You can do that on the project’s Bandcamp or Spotify, and be sure to also follow it on Facebook and Instagram.
Oh yeah, the name. You didn’t think I would’ve left that question unasked, did you?
‘When I was trying to be an irritating provocateur and nothing more, I figured I needed a name that was stupid and hard to forget. Two words that don’t go together and don’t make any real sense when you think about it. There’s no meaning behind it, no message, no hidden anything. It’s just nonsense. I often feel like I should have changed it a long time ago, and while a part of me still feels that, it’s a name no one forgets, for better or worse. And I will admit that I get a kick out of seeing a flyer for a show with my name on it next to all these serious sounding, cryptically named bands.‘
That’s it, I’ll sign off before our editors get any more reasons to haul my ass from here to eternity.