Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with Vastum
This is the 35th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: Orificial Purge
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Favorite Song: "Abscess Inside Us"
The Bear Bones: Orificial Purge is the fourth full length by Bay Area death metal outfit Vastum, comprised of Leila Abdul-Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune, Ionophore), Dan Butler (Acephalix), Shelby Lermo (Ulthar), Luca Indrio (Acephalix, Necrot), and Chad Gailey (Necrot, Mortuous).
The Beating Heart: Vastum is one of the most important and interesting American death metal band of the past decade, and fierce representatives of what could be called the "new Bay Area scene." A beast equal parts dripping flesh and searing cerebral aspect, Vastum managed to remain a cut above most other death metal bands in the current or contemporary wave of American death metal in that their brutality was only matched by their intelligence. Like a swampy, gassy planet that seems deserted at first and yet is revealed to be sentient in an of itself, Vastum is as terrifying as it is fascinating, a combination that continues to be rare in a world that seems almost always divided between "natiness" and "progressiveness." And in that rare realm they seem to follow in the footsteps of what is perhaps the most nasti-intelligent band of all time, Carcass.
While 2015's Hole Below was and perhaps is considered to be a high water mark for the band and for modern death metal as a whole – also for myself personally – Orificial Purge manages to push their boundaries even further. Injecting an additional dose of eerie atmosphere and with addition of astounding, crystal-clear production from legendary engineer/producer and longtime collaborator Greg Wilkinson, Vastum's beautiful brand of ugly was made to shine all that more, without losing an inch of its massive sound. And it is for that reason that I chose to talk to vocalist/guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf about their latest effort, and, as per usual, music and all that. The conversation took place late 2019, before the world descended into flames, just to give a bit of context.
Before we move into the wonderful interview with Leila, I would encourage you to catch up with the Albums of the Decade series as well as, perhaps, check out our new podcast MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that), a place to unload a heady mix of philosophy, aesthetics, and metal. Also, be sure to check out or latest compilation album MILIM KASHOT VOL. 2, which is pretty packed with unbelievable music. Trust me. Finally, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and also, if so inclined, support whatever it is that we do on Patreon. Thank you for your time and readership. On to my talk with Leila.
Is there a moment you remember, maybe as a younger person, when you heard a song and something just clicked with you and you were like: “Holy shit! What the hell was that!?” Or you heard a turn of melody, or something happened that you remember vividly as being kind of a moment where you said: “That is different,” or that changed my mind about what I thought music could be.
Yeah. I can't really just talk about one. I mean, I've been so deeply involved in music since I was six years old and I'm now 43. So that's a long time and I’ve been through many musical phases, though, in the end, really, those ended up not being phases because I still love most of what I was listening to starting from age 13, 14. So they weren't phases and I still love a lot of the stuff I listened to then, so it's just so hard to pick one.
So you don't have to pick one, but maybe I'll kind of change the way I framed that. I was kind of preparing for that answer. So, let's say, like you, there's a certain I mean, I love the music I grew up with as well right. But There was a time in my life when I listened to music and there was a moment where I felt like: “Okay, this is, this is the forbidden stuff. This is the grown up stuff.” So even if you love the music since you were six or 13, was there a moment where you felt that switch from childhood to adulthood?
You mean life changing?
I guess you could say that, yeah.
There were a few times where things were really life changing. I was exposed to metal as a kid but I didn't really, really nerd out on metal till I was in my 20s. So when I was exposed to Slayer, Metallica, Judas Priest, those bands that changed my life, when I heard all those bands and started listening to all the albums. And at that point I was interested in playing metal as well. Before that it was more like punk and hardcore. I mean, I have to tell you, at 14 I was listening to everything from prog rock, industrial noise, shoegaze music, classical music, you know, I was already playing multiple instruments by that age, I was in the jazz ensemble playing the trumpet – I stopped playing trumpet when I started learning the guitar. Well, there was a little bit of an overlap, and now I have a solo project where the trumpet is at the forefront. So it's such an extensive background that I have that it's hard to say, you know? When I hear other people's interviews about what, what got them into heavy music, it seems so focused and specific that it's like: “Wow, I could never be so specific like that because it doesn't reflect who I am.” Who I am is…. I mean, I have seven projects and they're all really different. And I'm a little different from the rest of my bandmates in Vastum in that metal is really not the main thing that I listen to. It's one of the main things, but I love goth and industrial and experimental stuff, electronic music – I play electronic music as well. So I guess that’s why I'm answering your question in this way that I think is more true to my experience. I feel like if I just blurt out one album it doesn’t capture how I listened to music back then.
So I have a question about an experience. I mean, would you say that when you were younger, all those different kinds of music…. Like, when I was younger, it was as if each friend had a job, right? There was the punk friend, there was the thrash metal friend..
… there was the nu metal friend, and if you were lucky then some of that stuff rubbed off of you. And so I because I had “the industrial friend” and “the goth friend.” I still listen to Skinny Puppy because, and because I had “the goth” friend…
They’re one of my all time favorites, Skinny Puppy. I saw them in 1992, I was 16. Godflesh were supposed to open but they couldn't get into the country, so they canceled. And that was a life-changing show, that show was tremendous. It was the Last Rites tour, and I saw them in New York City and that show was violent as hell.
Why was it violent?
There were fights that broke out, someone got stabbed. I don't know if they were hospitalized or they died, there was all kinds of chaos going on. And it was, you know, a different time in New York City in the early 90s. I grew up 10 miles from New York City and had been going into the city, you know, since the 80s. It was just a different time, it was dangerous. You had to watch your back wherever you walked.
Were you a fan before you went to the show?
I had been a fan since 1990, yeah. I think I already had all their records up to that point. I may not have had everything, because back then you just had to buy it wherever you could find it.
[Laughs] It was just a different time.
Oh, I know I empathize deeply. It's funny because today I write what could safely be considered a metal website but I have a relationship with metal that isn't the kind that would make me feel comfortable among lifer metal people. So I have something of a more complicated relationship with metal. I think metal serves a purpose for me. But what's interesting is that just today because today evidently is the 30th anniversary of Rabies.
Oh god, Rabies. I had it on cassette and I just wore that thing out.
Yeah, I knew Rabies because of my friend. The point being that because it was the 30th anniversary and because I write about this shit, so I have to know that shit. And because I remembered that I was like: “Okay, so I'm going to listen to “Smothered Hope” now, which isn't on Rabies but my mind was wandering and the reason I listened to “Smothered Hope” was, and this is coming full circle with why it's funny that I write a metal site, because I know in my heart that there are two songs that I consider to be the best songs ever written by a person, and they're not metal songs. So the first one is “Smothered Hope” and the second one is “Liberation” by Outkast.
It's like a 10-minute song where everyone they’ve basically ever met is singing on, like Erykah Badu and CeeLo Green. It's just a perfect, perfect song. And, and so and then I thought to myself, so if I had to pick perfect songs I'd pick “Smothered Hope” and then I'd pick that song and I guess “Holy Wars” because I’m a Megadeth head.
That’s a good one.
Yeah, they’re my favorite band.
Yeah. It’s a very unpopular position in life.
[Laughs] Hey I respect Megadeth. Definitely two of their albums were pretty influential, Rust in Peace and Peace Sells. I’d even say that there was a little Megadeth that creeped into the new Vastum album. That song “Abscess Inside Us”? There’s something about the groove of that song. I put on Rust in Peace recently and I was like: “Oh, I guess that must have swayed my unconscious.”
You know what’s funny about that? I have a note here: “‘Abscess Inside Us’ – dual harmony, almost an Iron Maiden feel.” But now that I think of it it may have been Iron Maiden that I was thinking of. That’s crazy. Anyway, where was I? Oh, the Skinny Puppy show. So you were a fan coming into that show, and it sounds like a pretty scary experience, some guy getting stabbed in the audience….
Well I had heart about that later, I had no idea that was happening until later. But it was packed, it was a sold-out show at The Ritz at New York City and… You know, I was in high school and I had never seen a band play with visuals projected onto the stage of really disturbing content while they're performing, that was new to me. I’d seen horror movies, I've seen Faces of Death at that point, but to put it in the context of the music that Skinny Puppy were playing at that point in their career, that was very eye opening for me and frightened in that kind of cool way where you're like, you just can't stop watching [laughs].
Frightened by the content, by the stuff they're projecting?
Combined with the music. They also had some sort of contraption going on on the stage, some kind of metal swing that Ogre was swinging on. I vaguely remember something to that effect. There was a real S&M vibe to the whole thing [laughs], poisoning my innocent mind.
That's interesting, and I don't want to make that leap because it seems a bit too easy of a connection to make, but this idea of something being scary and vaguely sexual at the same time that it's being scary, that's not necessarily a foreign notion when it comes to Vastum, right? That's, like, kind of what you guys are doing, at least thematically. But I guess I wanted to ask, I mean, obviously you going to a Skinny Puppy show and being in awe of it….
Completely in awe and just being fascinated by it and loving it.
So in a way you got what a lot of metal fans get from metal, just through other means, right? Some people get into death metal specifically because they like, you know, being scared, and that feeling of crossing a line of propriety, which isn't the case with every mode of making music. I’d say, for instance, prog metal gives off less of that vibe. So I guess what I'm asking is that when you did get into metal, or “nerd out” as you said was there a reason for that? What was it that made you look for the sense of awe but just somewhere else?
Well, again, I got into all the classic metal stuff a little later, and I think it combined with my desire to get better at playing guitar. Up until that point I was playing in punk and hardcore bands, and the skill level required was not very high. And then I just really got into just the guitar wizardry that was common in metal. So it kind of happened in tandem – I explored all that stuff in my 20s at the same time I was trying to learn how to play it. But I was into all kinds of metal from Slayer, Testament etc., to death metal and black metal, Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Morbid Angel. And at the time, this was the mid 90s, bands like At the Gates, all the Gothenburg metal stuff was getting big.
So all that stuff, I was just like a sponge, absorbing all that. And then the bands I was in a little later than incorporated elements of metal and hardcore at the same time, and then I got more into playing like crust metal. I had a band, Memento Mori in the early 2000s, a very short-lived band. But it wasn't until I moved to the Bay Area that I formed my first actual metal band, which was Saros, and we were kind of a mix of death and thrash and black metal and prog. I was melodic but there was a lot going on and it was technical and we rehearsed a lot.
I've had this lingering fascination with musicians who begin in hardcore and end up in a very different place. The classic example I have of that is Neurosis, but it’s a recurring theme. And one of the answers I've been given as to why it is that people begin in hardcore and end up doing something that is far somewhat different is that it’s easier to play punk. So when you're young and you want to play guitar, that's what you do. And another answer is that you learn the basics of songwriting through pop, because punk is such a pop-oriented mode of writing. So, and I guess those all seem kind of logical to me, but there's an aesthetic that is punk that is also a kind of ethics, often they’re wedded together. This idea that I can pick up a guitar and do whatever the fuck I want has a lot to do with empowerment and so on, for instance. So, even looking back was there a moment where you said: “You know, if I am invested in the ethics of that scene, if I start you know, ripping solos…”
[Laughs] You’ll be ostracized forever from the punk scene?
[Laughs] Yeah, either that or just being made aware of crossing a certain line. I’m sure some people are quite vigilant about, you know, starting to worry too much about the technical aspect of playing and so on. Did you feel like you were crossing into different terrain?
Well, you know, a lot changed. In my era, where I grew up, there were metalheads that were only into metal. And then you had punks and people who were into hardcore, and it seemed like after a while that changed and it became okay for punks to play metal-influenced music. So that the ethics were retained but you could be a little more technical and add influences. Although, I was in that band Memento Mori and ethically we were total punks, I mean really just a total DIY band, playing people's basements, that kind of thing. But our influences were early Metallica, Bolt Thrower, Dismember, bands like that. Which are all metal but even Bolt Thrower you could say came from punk, they're ethically more of a punk band in that way. So I'd say things just changed and it became more merged. And it was okay, you could still keep your punk ethics and do the music that you want to do and not be ostracized. I mean, there's always some contingent in the punk scene that are very anti-metal and don't want to have anything to do with it. Yeah, I mean, which I always found to be, I don’t know, an arrogance about what’s “true punk.”
I was about to say that through your own self description as someone who is defined by a lack of any one central identity, that there is a lot of stuff going on at the same time. So if someone…
I wouldn’t say a lack of identity, I definitely have a strong musical identity it's just that it includes such a wide range of sounds, that if I would sum it all up in a few adjectives I would be something like dark, deep melancholic, introspective music. That I think is where my heart is. And I think that you can see that thread throughout Vastum and my solo work and my other bands.
Yeah, I didn’t mean to say you didn’t have an aesthetic identity just that as someone who grew up listening to everything you might not be best friends with the punk that says you can only play punk.
No, not best friends, but they were around. And just by being part of a scene they're always those people around wherever I went.
The scene here in Tel Aviv, so there's a focal point that is hardcore oriented, in which you would include punk, hardcore, grindcore bands and and the bands that for whatever reason are always affiliated with that scene which, like sludge bands that sometimes gravitate to the hardcore side. And then there's the metal side, which is like the death and black metal side. And there is some, you know, convergence there, but there are quite stark differences in scene mentality between the two, also politically. So, I think a lot of baggage comes with a genre that has nothing to do with genre.
Yeah, it’s a little different in the Bay Area, I have to say. It’s a lot more progressive here, in all of the scenes, than other parts of the United States or possibly other parts of the world too. And there are a lot more women involved in all the genres here. Which is something you may not see in other places.
Yeah, I usually associate the presence of women in heavy scenes to the influence of punk and hardcore because that to me the scene where that happens more than, say, a more orthodox metal scene, which, by and large, tends to be more masculine.
Yeah. It's changing, but I would say that only really recently, like in the past five years, I have seen a lot more representation of all genders and races. But, yeah, with the punk stuff there were always women involved in punk, since 70s. So I agree that that influenced what came after. I guess it is just the trajectory of specific genres of metal. I think overall now it's a much more diverse population than ever.
I mean, I'm sure this is a tired subject, but has this been a topic that bothered you or that you thought of? Were you or ever made to feel self conscious of the fact that you are a woman in a genre that is not as populated by women?
I think it depends on who’s asking the question and what they’re asking, because I never tire talking about issues around gender and diversity, I'm always happy to talk about that. But I think it just depends on who's asking it and how they're framing it. And you know, some people can be very leading when they ask those kinds of questions, they're seeking some kind of definitive answer, and they're not necessarily going to get one. And I think people are asking different and better questions now than they were earlier on. And it’s also that there are a lot more women now, in the younger generation, there are so many more women. The focus is on how rare it is to be on women playing extreme music, but it’s less rare now. So maybe that’s why it’s not as interesting for people to talk about, for that reason.
I do think it’s interesting, because I live now, and because it’s something that I think about in other areas, such as the women writers I study or teach in my classes. And so it has been on my mind quite a bit. I guess the corny thing to say would be “In an attempt to be a better person” but I’m not sure that’s what I’m doing. I don’t know if I’m trying to be a better person. I think I’m trying to be intellectually honest with myself. And there are two ways in which I could tackle this issue vis a vis what you were talking about. So one would be to say that I’m very interested in the social aspect, such as women being made to feel unwelcome in certain scenes or belittled, or even the other way around, what you could call the “No Doubt” syndrome, where all focus is on you being a woman in a band. So I’m curious about that, and you don’t have to answer, I guess, but were you made to feel uncomfortable?
I mean there are always things that women experience, whether on a subtle level or a not-so-subtle level. And maybe that hasn’t been all of my experience, but I have definitely had experiences that… I mean, there’s definitely still sexism around. The thing that I notice more now, or that still exists, is the feeling of invisibility. Like, Vastum played a fest last year and, honestly, before I walked on to that stage no one talked to me – unless they knew me previously of course, but I’m talking about how metal band members recognize other metal band members even if they’ve never met before – there’s this acknowledgement, whether it’s a look or smile of recognition, or a “Hey, what’s up?”…. So no one looked at me as if I were in a band. I was just invisible. But, you know, a lot of people don’t know there’s a woman in Vastum. They don’t know I’m doing half of the vocals [laughs]. And then when I get off the stage I’m a different person to them. So that’s what I notice all the time, like: “Oh, OK. She’s in Vastum so she’s somebody.” And before that I was just like a non-person almost. And I noticed this just because when I’m around my male bandmates, everyone’s talking to them, people recognize them, they assume that they’re in a band. But they don’t assume I’m in a band, and I can’t help but think it’s because I’m an unintimidating-looking woman without tattoos. It’s like this “eureka” moment when they find out I’m in the band they came out to see, it’s like a switch goes off and their face lights up. It’s constantly amusing and sad at the same time.
I’d like to piggyback on the statement you made about people not know there’s a female vocalist in the band and I’d like to put a weird twist into it. There’s something about the production of the new album that makes it clearer who’s voice is coming in when. As if there’s a greater definition in pitch and thus it’s easier to tell that it’s just not one voice, and to catch on when your higher pitch comes in.
I have a lot to say about that. It is true that Orificial Purge has greater vocal range than any of the previous Vastum albums. However, both Dan and I are doing high-pitched vocals.
Both Dan and I are doing low growls, and it’s not so easy to tell. People assume that the lower growls are all Dan when really a lot of them are me, and Dan is also doing some high-pitched stuff. So it depends which song you’re talking about, but it’s not so obvious. So that’s the main thing that I wanted to say, that a lot of people make that assumption when really what we’ve done on this album, which I find really interesting and which sets it apart from the previous albums, is that Dan and I really merged our vocals in a way for it to be disorienting, and so you don’t really know what you’re listening to necessarily. We were very conscious in terms of the pitch. Like: “Let’s redo this vocal line lower.” I’ll do it lower, and Dan can do it higher, or we trade off on the lows and then trade off on the highs. It’s a lot more evenly distributed than it has been in the past.
So I wrote like a short blurb about the album at the time, and what it said basically was that the reason that I thought the album was as brilliant as it is because it felt like a play on textures. I like cooking shows, and one of the things they go on about forever in cooking shows is this idea of texture. That it’s not just flavor but that your mouth and your brain need differences in texture. There are those chocolate chip cookies in New York that are these huge things that have this crust on the outside, and inside it’s very fluffy and there are walnuts there, which are tougher than the dough but softer than the crust or the chocolate. So when you’re eating it, it tastes great but one of the things that make it great is that there are a thousand gradients of texture. And I think that’s the way I think of Orificial Purge.
[Laughs] That’s cool, but you’re making me hungry too.
Yeah, sorry about that. But what I mean by that is that the vocals are either low or high, or interchangeable, which is one play on flavor. And then the guitars are playing melodies that aren’t always this super riffy stuff, and those are two other types of frequency or flavor, and then there are the drums – which I think are just brilliant, and on top of that you have moments where the drums and the guitars kind of mimic each other, and still other moments where the vocals and the guitars seem to follow each other. It feels like the perfect bite, like everything you need. Like, I love death metal, but I find it very difficult to talk about death metal, because it feels more visceral. Like, what am I going to talk about? And there are modes of death metal which attempt to be more cerebral, like certain Morbid Angel albums or Chuck Schuldiner’s later career…
I love Chuck Schuldiner’s later career, I love the later Death, I know that’s a very unpopular opinion.
I like it better than the earlier Death.
Me too! [Laughs]
But you like Megadeth, so you have good taste.
That’s true [laughs].
But there’s something about the new Vastum that feels like the smartest you can be while still being dumb.
Being brilliant, without bending one note toward what I guess some people might call “progressive.” It’s still death metal, it’s still that primal, visceral thing, but the parts fit together in a way that feels progressive. I’m sorry, this is not a question. I’ll delete all of this.
[Laughs] Keep the cookie part, that was good.
[Laughs] I will. So, other than the vocals parts what else made you feel this album was different?
Well, Dan and I spent a lot more time on the vocals this time, and spent more time evenly distributing our lyrics, because typically what we would do is that Dan would write the lyrics for one song and I would write the lyrics for another one and we assign vocal parts to each other so we’re not just singing our own lyrics, we’re singing each other’s lyrics.
That sounds like a lot of consideration and a lot of work.
It’s really collaborative. We definitely share the spotlight with that. And the other thing that was different about Orificial Purge was that I invited my long-time collaborator and who I consider to be my musical soulmate, Ryan Honaker, my bandmate in Ionophore. He played violin tracks on the opening of “His Sapphic Longing,” and pitch shifted them to make them sound like a contrabass. And we both worked on the ambient parts throughout the album. So, having him involved was very special for me because we’ve collaborated on over a dozen albums together over the past eight years.
And never on a Vastum album?
Never on a Vastum album, yeah, this is the first time he’s done stuff for that. So that was cool, I kind of became the “atmospheric director” of the band and working on all that stuff in parallel to writing the guitar riffs with Shelby [Lermo]. So I became a little more entrenched in the ambient composition aspect of Vastum, and I want to do more of that and try to find a way to work it into our live shows, which we haven’t done as much.
Given your musical autobiography and your diverse tastes, and I would guess those tastes balance themselves out – sometimes you need that, sometimes you need something else – and so sometimes you need a Vastum moment in your life, and sometimes you don’t.
But I guess my question would be: if everything balances itself out what is then Vastum’s place in that equilibrium? What function does it have for you?
The animal side of me [laughs]. Yeah, it’s visceral, I definitely think it’s the most visceral project that I have. Or, the most visceral violent project, I think my other projects are visceral in different ways. There’s a violence to Vastum that’s exciting, and our live shows are known to be aggressive. You know, just to get people moving. So it’s great, I get to growl and play these evil riffs, it gives me that outlet for aggression that I don’t have in my other projects.
I guess that’s an answer on the level of performance, right? Like “I get to scream, I get to pound these huge riffs, I have this drum set pounding behind me,” which I have to assume feels good. But you also deal with concepts such as autophagia and the “hole” and the idea of being swallowed by the hole, of being consumed or lost in something. Those things feel like they have something to do with the music as well, right? It’s as if it’s “the music to get lost in.”
Maybe Vastum is that place where you can disappear into something.
It’s interesting you frame it that way because I get lost in everything I write. And actually I have a performance tonight, I’m doing a solo show tonight, and half of it is improv and I don’t even know what I’m going to play when I get up on the stage.
That sounds terrifying.
It’s wonderful. I mean, it took me a while before I got to the point where I can say that, but I’m now warmed up enough in that project that I can just go and start making sounds and I don’t even know what I’ll be doing until I do it, and that’s a very important part of my creative process and my performance process. So it’s funny you say that about Vastum because I feel like Vastum is in a way…. I mean, I do get lost…. The way that I write Vastum songs is intended so that the listener can get lost in them, so you definitely picked up on that aspect, because I do like to write, you know, not too many riffs that are repeated a bunch of times but repeated in different ways. Like, there will be a lead that comes in that is arching over the rhythm and then there will be a different harmony or a different drum beat, so that it keeps changing but the riff stays consistent. So that’s the hypnotic effect of the composition. You know, I do get lost in all of my projects when I’m onstage. I really just like to merge with the music, like you said. So I think that’s a defining feature of really everything that I’m doing
Is that your definition of a positive result, of a performance or a song? If that feeling happens?
Yeah, absolutely, and I think what makes Vastum different is that it’s aggressive and it’s violent in a way that my other projects aren’t. So I get this catharsis from getting to be this aggressor. You know, when I’m growling into the mic and just [laughs] watching a bunch of stunned faces.
[Laughs] Stunned why?
That this small woman is making these big sounds. It’s something that people never get over when they see us live. Up to that point they had only been listening to the records. So [laughs], it’s kind of fun. To shock people.
Well, that’s why they come. It’s giving them their money’s worth.
Exactly. Dan’s performance is what I think attracts people to our shows, for the most part. They know that when they see us live they’re going to get jumped on and grabbed and screaming in their faces. It’ll be a very sweaty, corporeal experience, especially for the people in the front. They want that. It’s interesting. Almost masochistic, I’d say [laughs].
For the audience or for Dan?
[Laughs] for the audience, definitely for the audience.
I mean, yeah, there’s a certain level of masochism in being into metal. I mean, my hearing is not what it used to be and that’s actual physical damage I have inflicted on myself so there is some level of wanting pain. Personally I’ve always associated that with quieting something. I have a busy mind and metal helps me focus. I can’t write or read without very loud music. But, yeah, whatever it is that is holding your attention is a violent thing, and I think that may be what people are looking for. Sometimes when I ask that question about a first moment of shock with music people refer to a mode of being frightened. It’s not that they think that that album is the album that changed everything and no other album matters, just just that moment, much like the Skinny Puppy performance, scared them while they were having a good time. Usually in life when you’re scared you get out of the room.
And metal is that weird place, maybe like horror movies, where you go into the room to get scared.
"Yeah, especially given that, at least in the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries people have had pretty stable lives….. I mean, it’s funny that I’m talking to you and you’re in Israel, but for most people here, they don’t see war, and if they're white and privileged, they’re not confronted with violence on a daily basis, and so it tends to be those people that want to be frightened because that’s missing from their lives. Maybe there’s something really human about being attracted to that. Something hormonal [laughs]."
I agree with that, I would just add that a lot of the people who make violent music, while they may not be people who’ve witnessed war or anything like that, are nonetheless people who have been touched by violence.
And so their way of gaining agency over that violence is exerting a different kind of violence. I think a lot of times art works that way, that you need to expel something and that’s the safe space to do that.
So, I have one more question, which you may have answered, and if you feel that way you don’t have to. Is there anything you’re especially proud of when you look back at the making or recording of Orificial Purge?
It’s a few things. For me, definitely having Ryan on the album was very special for men. Also the production is a little dryer than Hole Below and I think that made the album sound heavier to me, a little more aggressive and brutal than Hole Below, which was just drowned in reverb. Especially with the drums, when you put too much reverb on the drums they lose their edge. This time we really just put it [reverb] on the vocals and the leads, and a little bit on the drums, but not as much, and I think it was sort of a winning combination. I’m also really in love with the artwork, I think there’s something about that Laina Terpstra painting that really evoked a strong reaction among our fans, one way or another, in a very interesting way. A lot of people just fell in love with it or they hated it. And I think because it’s not a typical death metal album cover, but still very sinister and at the same time very beautiful, that pushes people’s buttons in a way that they’re not comfortable with.
I was actually just reminded that a really big reason of how much Hole Below impacted me back then was the cover. I wasn’t expecting that. Only recently I read an interview with you where you said that you started Vastum in order to do old-school death metal and in my mind I went: “But wait, Vastum isn’t old-school death metal! Why would she say that?” And then I went back and listened to it again and I was like: “Oh, it is!” But even with that cover, part of why you guys stood out, other than the amazing music, obviously, was that I wasn’t expecting that. So, in my mind Vastum was a genre, not even a death metal band, just Vastum.
Interesting [laughs], that’s cool.
And I think the artwork for Orificial Purge works that way as well. Just differently, not as monochrome.
Yeah. Dan Butler, our singer, he did all of our covers, except for the CD version of Patricidal Lust, which was Paulo Girardi. And the amazing thing is that Laina’s painting, there’s some similarity in style between her style and Dan’s style. That was pretty amazing to see. And he also did the inner layout of the vinyl version, so you have these drawings on the back cover and on the insert that reflect the style of Hole Below and the vinyl of Patricidal Lust and Carnal Law.
I just wanted to add that everything you said about the production… I mean, like any really great work of art that’s not the only thing, but it was definitely something that was noticeable, and I think it’s amazing. What weirdly comes to mind is Heartowork-era Carcass, where it’s clean, but not too clean, just enough for you to be able to hear everything, and because you can hear everything you can notice how coordinated all the instruments are. And it’s that level of intentionality, where everything feels thought out, that brings it to another level, for me.
That’s awesome, thank you. I think a lot of that goes to Greg Wilkinson who recorded that album. He’s been recording us since the beginning, and I really do think this is superior to some of the earlier stuff he was working on. He’s very much in demand now, much more than he was when we started working with him, and there’s a reason for it. The tools that he has, they’re a lot more streamlined and he can make a really killer drum production without taking too much time because he’s so good now. So a lot of it is his production skills and the relationship we have with him, being there in the mixing process, expressing what we want. We’ve become really tight collaborators.