VASSALS - PLAGUESTATES EP REVIEW

Written by: Cal Lockhart
Published: 20 Aug 2016 - 01:11 PM

Summary

An absolutely phenomenal release from one of the most underrated bands to ever come out of Brisbane

VASSALS - PLAGUESTATES EP REVIEW

There are, in my opinion, far too few truly great and unique metal bands to have come out of Brisbane. Whilst there are, no question, countless bands establishing themselves in genres such as death metal and metalcore, I have only rarely heard something from my own hometown that has really excited or interested me. Vassals were a definite exception. Instead of sticking to close to identifiable genre lines, these guys went out and forged a unique and potent combination of styles, genres and ideas that transcended any specific set of guidelines or criteria. While they may call to mind classic Tool prog-rock structures, Cult of Luna melodies and Sunn O))) wall-of-sound dynamics in one section, in the next they are more reminiscent of old-school hardcore punk power-chord riffing and high-energy drumming, with Xasthur-esque black metal shrieks. They transition from shimmering, crystal-clear, multi-layered guitar melodies to massive, heavy chords, huge drumming, screamed vocals and ultra-distorted bass in such a beautiful and expert way that it’s essentially impossible to imagine it going in any other direction. In short, it’s an unusual, nigh-indescribable kind of music, but it works so well.

This EP was recorded live by 4ZZZ at The Waiting Room, just a couple of kilometres southwest from the Brisbane CBD. You can hear that the place wasn’t packed full of thousands of people, and the quality isn’t anything close to the compressed and polished sound you would expect from most studio recordings today, but all of this really just really adds to the raw, heavy nature which the music so perfectly balances with the delicate & often ethereal melodies. The album begins its three-song, thirty-minute run with Infinite Fractal Recursions. We first hear the sounds of an audience fading into the mix, before the guitar lays down a relatively simple, but wholly mesmerising  guitar line, instantly grabbing your attention and drawing you in, like a snake about to strike. This line is joined by plodding bass and light drums and another swirling guitar line, all gradually swelling and masterfully building the tension, until in comes the crunch – three big, heavily distorted power chords, crashing cymbals, and powerful screams all punch through, making an entrance that feels massive and dramatic. The song winds through a range of contrasting dynamics, with energetic and quasi-anthemic “chorus” sections lining the whole piece, as well as bass-heavy and atmospheric meandering throughout the middle, all excellently linked together through a range of guitar drones and building or fading drum patterns. Once the song is finished, it leads into the second track – Entropic Cascade . The lead guitar takes over for most of the song, which is primarily driven by a big, sprawling melodic guitar solo, over heavily distorted bass chords and thumping drums. The vocals are never really the focus here, but really do help to provide an extra edge and rawness to the atmosphere. The song pounds through various different riffs and tempos, right until it reaches the ending – a massive, building power chord, being repeatedly smashed out, while the drums get more chaotic, and the screams build in urgency and desperation until reaching what seems to be the breaking point. The song ends abruptly, and leaves you there, sitting in your chair, with your mind just absolutely blown away. Once it’s over, and you have ideally managed to collect all the pieces of skull and brain that now line your walls, it moves onto the the final track, La Douleur Exquise. While the first half of the song is massively heavy, it then goes into a soft, complex, and very heavily layered section, with drums and bass building underneath to help drive the momentum. Then, in the album's last moments, it absolutely loses its shit. The guitar chords are smashed out and feeding back, the drums are pounded, the screams are loud, the bass is thumping and distorted. It’s all a chaotic mess, which then perfectly fades away and just dies. The album is over, and you can’t help but feel a longing for more. Jesus Christ, I wish I could have seen this one live myself.

It is really quite unfortunate that these guys never really seemed to have received much of a major following, or had any form of major success at all. From what I know, the band broke up some time around the middle of 2014, and without the huge cult following that a lot of these local bands seem to end up with. I find it quite disappointing that one of the most innovative and powerful bands that I have ever heard come out of this city has received so much less recognition than they deserved; I am not exaggerating when I say that these guys are one of my favourite doom metal bands not just out of Brisbane, or even out of Australia, but out of all of my music. Given the chance, these guys would have easily been able to compete with some of the best and most instantly recognisable names in international post-metal – Neurosis, Pelican, Isis, Cult of Luna, you name it. This release perfectly showcases a brilliant and talented band creating music that is with a completely masterful balance and control over both atmosphere and energy. In short, you should listen to it.

REVIEW SUMMARY: Excellent underrated local gem, which demonstrates some world-class innovation and exploration in the whole post/prog/sludge metal scene.

OVERALL RATING: A