Vulgaris - Asundre review
|Release date:||February 2021|
02. Six Rivers
03. Separation Anxiety
05. Lucid Screaming
It wasn't since Morbid Angel's Illud Divinum Insanus's joint review that the staff collaborated on a single review. This time it isn't because the album is polarizing. Far from it.
What would it sound like if Regarde Les Hommes Tomber really liked Sylosis?
Seeing the "blackened heavy metal" tag currently used for this is a bit suspicious, since it wasn't as accurate for the band's EP, but definitely not accurate for this. Of course there is heavy metal running through the veins of Vulgaris, but it's mostly in how riffy it is, and none of it sounds like traditional 80s heavy metal. Compared to how much black metal it has instead, it really pales. There are moments where the emphasis on muscular riffing is more obvious, like in "Separation Anxiety", but it is almost absent from other tracks. However, it still defies easy categorization.
Categorization fetishes aside, I'm sure very few of you if any have heard the band's debut EP, 2019's Ex Igni, but just by the production quality alone Asundre is massive leap from it. Obviously, once that is noticed, improvements on the rest of the fronts become pretty apparent too. But who cares how much they improved from their debut if no one listened to their debut. Asundre is a great album when compared to most other releases purely because of how well it can balance the riffing and the atmosphere building, and how subtly varied the ways they do that are. As a whole, it doesn't feel like Asundre is too ambitious of a record, but when comparing different points in the album, the subtle ways they tweak their sound throughout it become a bit less obscure.
The shrieks are pretty meaty, being mostly in a mid-register, and instrumentally a lot of the heavy lifting is done by the guitars and drums, as much as there is still work on the production front in making the drums have the impact they should have. The bass doesn't have as many moments to shine sadly until the last two tracks, but its presence is still clearly felt as a supporting backbone of the sound that makes it feel so much fuller. The band clearly has a lot of chemistry between them, them being comfortably cohesive is both slower paced and faster paced moments, without too clear a preference for either. Reworked versions of songs from the EP are pretty seamlessly integrated, so gaps in songwriting are not noticeable.
Overall Asundre is a very promising debut of a band not very content with staying too idly within the confines of a single genre, but not wildly jumping genres either.
When reading the name 'vulgaris', the English word 'vulgar' should come to most people's mind. However, 'vulgaris' in Latin means 'common' or 'ordinary'. Now, the music of Vulgaris is as far from these two words as possible.
Asundre is a maelstrom of sounds that crashes upon you with intricate musicianship and compositional variety. I cannot easily categorize this band genre-wise because Vulgaris incorporate many sonic influences in their songs and their music is fairly particular and unconventional, offering diverse structures and multiple layers of different sounds.
The cover art depicts Poseidon or Neptune (possibly the latter given the band's Latin name) holding his trident and riding the two horses that, in my mind, represent the duality or the two main directions this album takes. The band mixes dark, bone-mashing heaviness with brighter clean and melodic passages, while the two vocalists provide a barrage of menacing rasps and deep growls that further solidify the aforementioned sense of duality. Sneaky bass lines work their way up to the surface of the sludgy murk and complement the sensational lead guitar work that encircles all the songs. If I can mention one flaw of this album, it would be the 'thin' production and especially the sound of the drums. I would have preferred a fuller and more bombastic mix; the kick drum often sounds to me like a typewriter and this was an obstacle towards my full enjoyment of Asundre.
Still, if you are looking for a gripping album whose genre tag is 'all-extreme metal and then some', you just found it. Thrashy yet progressive, melodic yet weighty, doomy yet eruptive, post-touching yet trad-embracing, death-leaning yet black-fueled, Asundre is a very promising debut.
Favourite tracks: "Six Rivers", "Lucid Screaming".
Usually as soon as I see "black" or "blackened" in the genre description, I get a bit nervous. Simply because the production often sounds like its recorded with a Fisher Price kit.
You might be thinking now that I wrote that intro to complain about the production (like I often do), but that's not exactly the case here. You get raw guitars, bass with power behind it and vocals that take the centre stage in a good way. The drums could have used a bit more oomph though.
Let's talk about the vocals. Absolutely lovely stuff (actually, can I use the word "lovely" when black metal is involved, or is that not done?). Anyway, it's really nice to have vocals that are visceral while still having good pronunciation and articulation.
The opening of this album is an atmospheric piece and those kind of touches can be find throughout the whole album. A good example of that is the outro of "Six Rivers" flowing neatly into the intro of "Separation Anxiety".
Instrumentally, Asundre is also very good. Variety is key and this album does offer that in spades. Every song sounds fresh and unique and leaving room for softer parts was an excellent decision.
I'll change to my "nitpicking prick" persona now. I enjoy a good short atmospheric little intro, but the opening track felt a bit too long to me. I also want to mention the softer parts. They sound good, but I noticed that it was a bit too soft in terms of audio level. At least on my first listen with a certain pair of headphones. The 3 subsequent listens I did with my main pair and with those it sounds totally fine.
You know, I'm the first one to admit that I'm not an expert in regards to all things black(ened) metal. However, I do know what I personally like to hear in these types of records. And with all honesty Asundre does deliver. The flow and pace are rock-solid, the vocals are strong and the lyrics absolutely fit. To me this simply is really good music.
Favourite tracks: "Six Rivers" and "Thrillkiller"
I'll throw my hat in with the rest of the gang and conclude that if Asundre has one weak point, it's the production - the drumwork is heavy on the kicking, and given the general tendency towards black metal aesthetics easily accommodated by the trebly guitars and rubbery bass, what I'd really like is more cymbal-sadism and undignified quantities of blasting to compromise with the general lack of weight in the low end (this accomplished very well in the title track). The other major flaw is the spelling of the album title, but what else can you expect from the Brits?
That's it for complaints, as Asundre's untethered sense of timing, appended to a taste for higher-string riffing and unpredictable melodic progressions, throws a little bit of Voivod energy into the blackened heavy mix, with echoes of that one King Gizz album. I'm even hearing elements of Sigh's Heir To Despair, particularly on the single, "Six Rivers," due to the peculiar rhythms and tones involved. Most of the album is inflected with black metal, though it doesn't often surface in its unadulterated form, usually melding with thrash, post-metal, or more traditional heavy metal; the twin-channel growls give the songs a bit of density and keep things rooted in mystery even when straying into less intense realms.
There is strong harmony between the two guitars and the bass, which is vital to the success of Asundre's unique melodies. The riffing on this album adheres to a rather unusual vision, with many inquisitive twists into what sound like microtonal exploitations - not quite atonal, but by no means content to follow the traditional scales of heavy metal. And the deeper I get into this intriguing blend, the less the production bothers me; it's a bit of a weirdly written album, so a bit of a weird sound doesn't hurt anyone at the end of the day.
We're reviewing the debut album of someone who is not only an MS user but an actual colleague of ours, but I hope that accusations of bias can be nullified by the strong personality of Vulgaris. This is a sound and a style that I don't hear often, and I'm chuffed to say that I enjoy it a lot more than out of sheer politeness.
Favorite tracks: "Thrillkiller," "Six Rivers"
The assessment "difficult to categorize" can have many causes. In the worst case it describes the sound of a band that desperately tries to accommodate as many influences as possible in order to offer at least some appealing ingredient to every potential fan. The end result is then often a conceptless and sometimes chaotic mishmash, where the different influences seem more like disturbing foreign bodies than enrichments of the listening experience.
Vulgaris, a four-piece founded in London in 2017, has fortunately taken a completely different path.
The difficulty of a simple categorization of Asundre lies in the fact that Vulgaris neither follows prefabricated patterns nor sticks to clichés. And that's why, in contrast to some of my colleagues, the self-chosen description "blackened heavy metal" doesn't bother me in the slightest - these three words describe their offering much better than any attempt to classify the music with countless adjectives from the genre goodie bag.
The term heavy metal should in this case of course be taken more in a literal sense than in its music-historical definition. Because Asundre is damn heavy, its basis is definitely metal and no one will be able to deny that the blackened atmosphere is in particular being supported by the vocal performance. Considering only the harsh vocals, the six songs are miles away from traditional heavy metal, but that is exactly one of the absolute strengths of the album. The fact that both the rhythm guitarist and the bassist act as full-fledged vocalists provides a very special dynamic and dense sound, while the one or other suitably placed solo of the lead guitarist and the grandiose and tight drumming still find their place to shine.
To sum up, this is one hell of a debut album.
Favourite tracks: "Lucid Screaming" and "Six Rivers"
All right, so to me this is not blackened heavy metal. It's heavy... Heavy-ned black... Wait, no, that's stupid. Eh, fuck it. Let's put it like this: When I think of black metal bands that go heavy metal, I do not think of Watain (on one album, that is). I think of bands like Vulgaris. And I'm a Watain fan.
I'm going to start right away with the only drawback which is the production. The drumming, while tight, sounds too clicky and thin to the point I needed to check if there was a drum machine involved. That being said, the performance on those drums is bombastic and great. It works as a proper backbone together with the sludgy bass that is ever present with its filthy tone. Non-clean production is not always the problem though, even within the same album you just criticized. It might be the Latino blood of mine lusting for lo-fi bestial metal from time to time, but there is something primal about listening to organic, non-musical sounds like hands sliding across the neck of the guitar as riffs and tempo change that I find deeply gratifying. On that end, Vulgaris have a wild, honest, and really punchy sound that makes me throw the horns around.
It's not difficult to understand given the massive riff-fest on this. It's what I would call Olympian metal and not only because the rabid vocals sound like harpies fighting to get my pickled liver. These thunderous riffs with bright, triumphant soloing do reach the mythological skies very convincingly. It almost made me think of Bølzer's celestial yet primitive nature but filtered through a heavy metal lens. All in all, Asundre (which I'm going to misspell as "Asunder" all the time, sorry guys) shows an incredible premise. It is the kind of metal album that fans of both extreme and not-extreme metalheads should enjoy.
If you're wondering why musclassia didn't contribute, it's because he's playing bass and vocals on the record.
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