Hole Below

Knuckle-dragging workout anthems for people who walk on ceilings

dB Rating: 8/10

Release Date: November 6th, 2015
Label:  20 Buck Spin

Vastum are to old-school death metal what Hammers of Misfortune are to traditional metal—at least in the way they bring new life to old inventions both by shitcanning clichés and by reframing them with force sufficient for reanimation. The biggest between-band commonalities—and differences—reside in songwriting: unlike the countless, nameless hordes for whom songs are mere platforms for displays of technical prowess, both artists approach composition as an end in itself. But time and again, Hammers of Misfortune roll close enough to familiar terrain that we’re always certain about what’ll happen next—despite pretty much always being mistaken. On Hole Below, Vastum, too, traffic in the familiar.

Rather than cozening us into repeating a single error, though, the SF-based quintet lacquers every time-tested gesture with enough fire to let their intrinsic strangeness shine through. Hence, we take nothing for granted. The approach succeeds most disastrously on closer “Empty Breast.” As they do on the rest of their third album, Vastum deploy classic dummy death metal’s medium and slower tempos primarily in the service of clarity and dramatic impact; guitarists Leila Abdul-Rauf and Shelby Lemo trace tremolo-picked alien arabesques over and around Abdul-Rauf and vocalist Daniel Butler’s guttural interplay, while bassist Luca Indrio and drummer Adam Perry make like conjoined tectonic plates on a planet designed for fieldtesting apocalypses. It doesn’t take long to notice that the atmospherics at song’s end lead into the ones at the beginning of opener “Sodomitic Malevolence,” even if the album isn’t yet on repeat.

—Rod Smith
Review originally printed in the December 2015 issue.
For a profile on the band, check out the January 2016 issue.