The obsidian roots of New Zealand extreme metal duo Vassafor reach back to the mid-’90s. But founding auteur VK has always intended the project to exist outside of time. Vassafor has never chased time-stamped trends or softened their edges to be more palatable. When Vassafor returned from hibernation in 2005, it began a flurry of merciless releases that treated black metal like a living canvas. VK’s vision for the band is uncompromising and as distinct as the stench of dead vermin that wafts from their stage shows. Now three years after their Malediction LP they’re releasing To the Death. Decibel Magazine invites you to listen to the album’s exclusive stream before it’s released on August 7th.
It only takes a few seconds for the opening title track to swirl into full fury. Vassafor then retreat from the cacophony to cast moonlight on drummer BP’s war toms. With its abrupt and impish songwriting decisions, To the Death continuously toys with expectations. Some passages seem impenetrable; a blur of blasts and distorted notes cannibalizing each other. But seven minutes into the record Vassafor unchain their first scorched headbanging riff. And that’s not an anomaly; they use guitar hooks as gateways to lure the listener deeper into the record. The album is inventive yet intoxicating in a way that satisfies the basest hungers of extreme music. Contagious melodies, aggression, worm-infested grooves—To the Death has them all. But it’s still a fiercely unpredictable record that could probably open mind-portals to demonic lucid dreams.
The intricate ripping of “Egregore Rising” is punctuated with sky-stabbing solos that strike like red lightning. “Eyrie” begins with dizzying black-thrash before conjuring haunted melodies from a distant burial mound. To the band’s bewilderment, Vassafor’s music is sometimes described as death/doom. With its cataclysmic atmospheres and brooding pacing, “The Burning Ìthyr” occasionally suits that genre tag. But even that song kicks into a hunting sprint like it’s closing in on prey. At 66 minutes of length, To the Death is a punishing test of endurance. It’s dense and thickly layered. But it’s not chaotic, because there’s nothing random about Vassafor’s acts of violence. Even a labyrinthine closer like “Singularity” follows the song’s rotten corridors to a destination that seems predestined. To the Death is a work of wild-blooded passion that feels even more vast than its run-time suggests.
Succumb to Vassafor’s emanations from the abyss and stream To the Death below. Scroll further and read an interview with Vassafor about the album’s creative gestation and humanity’s lack of pandemic enlightenment. But first, press play NOW.
Decibel Magazine interview with Vassafor founder VK
Were there any songwriting or sound adjustments you wanted to make for To the Death after releasing Malediction in 2017?
VK: Yes and no. While we were satisfied with Malediction (and still are!), [drummer] Ben and I really wanted to have an album that was unequivocally Black Metal. We seem to get labelled Death/Doom a lot, which seems random from our perspective. Although Black Metal is in my mind defined by lyrical content rather than guitar tone or vocal style, we figured it couldn’t hurt to really deliver our idea of what BM is in 2020. So that was something we actually talked about after Malediction was out and the dust settled. I try to limit conscious decision making in the writing process until having the song in its most primitive form take shape and demoed. Then comes the time to revise and try out different parts if it does seem to flow well enough, or if riffs don’t feel quite right. Often this is the period where songs get trimmed down. Ridiculous as it might seem, often these proto-stages of the songs can be much much longer than the final version…
Considering their complexity and density, did any of the songs on To the Death have a gestation period that began before Malediction?
VK: Actually, all but one song came after Malediction was out. The title track To The Death was being worked during the mix and mastering period of Malediction, but the others all flowed out afterwards, and in fact very easily. However there is still that gestation as we demo our songs (sometimes several times) to try and hone more detail and work out how to get more from each song and keep it singular other than falling into the same sounds and shapes as the rest of the songs it is next too. Each song has to work on its own terms, as well as alongside the rest of the album tracks. We have a very easy way of putting music together by now though. Not surprising since Ben has been dealing with my method of writing since he joined over 12 years ago now. To The Death is much more collaborative between the 2 of us than earlier records were…
Your lyrics and stage shows have long shown a veneration for death, and this album’s title continues that motif. Do you think the pandemic is a learning opportunity for humanity to confront mortality in a meaningful, introspective way?
VK: Being at this stage of 2020 the one thing you can be sure of is that the majority of the world’s population seem to have learned absolutely nothing due to this virus, same as the great unwashed are willfully ignorant in “normal” times. The only constant is change, and if someone hasn’t the eyes to see or ears to hear then they are perfectly in sync with the rest of the herd. As they deserve. As much as the masses can’t bare to think of their own mortality, Death is the only absolute we all share. I guess we are like the opposite of a vampyric BM band haha. No one is coming back, not in the physical state anyway…
What do you have planned for Vassafor for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
VK: 2020 had some great plans that had to fall to the wayside, but releasing the album was our top priority. That it is released peak period (so far anyway!) of pandemic yet will still be available on release day from Iron Bonehead in Europe and NWN in US and from our site Obsidian Reliquary for NZ/Australia still, despite the chaos, is a testament to our collective will power to make it happen. People can wallow in the state of things, or take charge and make things happen, to whatever degree possible. Manifestation of our will IS the core of what we have always preached. And so we are able to perform several release gigs here in New Zealand with our allies Ulcerate the day after our release on August 8th in Auckland and the following week on August 15th in Wellington. Considering the circumstances that is pretty good. But plans are afoot to terrorize further shores when or even if circumstances change and our border reopens. But in the meantime, the music still flows out and more songs are already taking shape. To quote the Vulcano song, “The Evil ALWAYS returns.” Hail Satan!
Pre-order Vassafor’s To the Death from Iron Bonehead HERE
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