By Tate Bengtson
The concept is simple, the execution unyielding, the principle uncompromising. Concept, execution, and principle may be summed up quite simply: death metal. Welcome to the macabre underworld of Vasaeleth. To pinch a famous phrase: abandon hope all ye who enter.
Serving as the creative vehicle for Antinom (drums) and O.A. (everything else), Vasaeleth blends the impenetrable murk of Incantation’s Onward to Golgotha with the Texan-style ritualistic malevolence of Imprecation’s Theurgia Goetia Summa. Low, indecipherable growls collide with the buzz of coarsely textured guitars while the drums attack with discombobulating frenzy. The primary source of Vasaeleth’s power rests in its oscillation between turbulent fast sections and dreadful slow passages. While its uptempo attack is an opaque and perplexing onslaught of indistinct riffs, the measured precision of its slow sections speaks to a very fine grasp of all things mysterious and macabre. It is within the latter mode that the spectacularly sick vision of Vasaeleth reveals its singularity; with every note pronounced and the mood unmistakably occult, Vasaeleth moves beyond the avowedly anti-theistic stance of Incantation and towards the recovery of a more primordial and ritualistic way of relating to death that recalls Imprecation.
If there is one criticism that I may level against the band, it is that the fast sections often come across as little more than a foil for the almighty slow passages. While the faster sections are often interchangeable and tend to blur into a maniacal, barely-controlled gallop (which is not a particularly bad quality in my books, and Vasaeleth does make this work in its favor), the slower sections demonstrate the depth and range of techniques at its disposal. The band does overcome this minor problem on some tracks, notably “Spirit of Noxious Miasmas,” where emphatic rhythmic breaks punctuate the uptempo drive. This song – which also serves as the album’s apex – demonstrates the full range of Vasaeleth’s capabilities as a foreboding introduction segues into one of the most powerful slow sections on the album before launching into a blitzkrieg assault.
While the resurgence of death metal that adheres to the early 90s model is a welcome trend, we are now at a point where the initial exhilaration is diminishing and greater critical analysis is leveled upon every new contender to that once-forsaken throne. This higher level of scrutiny reveals a band that has internalized the spirit of the genre at the zenith of its creative realization, but has gone further than simply aping its influences; yes, Incantation is an obvious and justified comparison, but it is the band’s cognizance of early 90s Texan death metal, as embodied by the aforementioned Imprecation, that lends Vasaeleth an atmosphere and approach distinct from its contemporaries. While additional putrefied flesh may need to be added to the band’s fast sections, its crushing slow passages and knack for crafting fluid, multi-faceted song structures speaks of a promising role for Vasaeleth in the movement to restore death metal to its morbid greatness.