Vexed – Negative Energy


Vexed released one of the best debut albums of recent years in 2021. Culling Culture carved out its own niche in the borderlands of deathcore and progressive metal and received unanimous praise in the press, including a positive appraisal from Scream Blast Repeat. We remarked that ‘the world has enough deathcore bands and groove metallers bow-wowing us with their eight-string guitar hooks and grinding bottom-end dynamics, but Vexed stand head and shoulders above the hordes like new conquerors surveying the potential of a new sea route.’ Now, they return with the difficult second album, and they’re even more vitriolic. Negative Energy is an apt description for the mood of this record. A dark blanket of grief clouds the music and will engulf you in its despairing embrace if you’re not careful.

Fans of Culling Culture’s prog metal complexities will need little time to calibrate to the new landscapes of Negative Energy. Vexed dispense with the technical side of their music in favour of a hard-hitting barrage of anger for most of this LP, yet it feels like a natural evolution. Vocalist, Megan Targett, is the clear winner from this internal division of labour in the band, with her lyrics taking precedence over everything else. And she has alot to say. The Korn-meets-Meshuggah bowel ruptures of ‘Anti-Fetish’ will strike you down like a pulmonary contusion. Here, Megan aims her ire at the gatekeepers and cynics that reject the band for being yet another in a long line of female-fronted upstarts. “But we’re not here to feed your fetish/ Don’t you look pathetic/ We’re not interested in your bullshit/ I’m bored, this ain’t a competitive sport.” It’s true that there’s no quota for the number of metal bands with female singers, and it makes no sense to compare them based on gender alone. The way she delivers these words in an automatic-fire sequence to match the swerving eight-string guitars should be a competitive sport. Few would outperform her in this regard.

“What have Vexed become?” is one of the questions that will persist throughout the listening experience. This is not deathcore. It’s not djent. You wouldn’t call it metalcore. The riffs are too dexterous to be nu metalcore. Yet Willem Mason-Geraghty’s drum grooves could fit into all the said categories. ‘We Don’t Talk About It’ thrives on a monstrous Alpha Wolf drop, but the band show once more how far advanced they are compared to their contemporaries when it comes to writing a meaningful anti-anthem chorus. You don’t punch your fist in the air to stanzas like, “I apologise/ I think I’ve said too much/ I’m so sorry I could not keep my mouth shut/ Please just try and see this from my point of view.” Childhood trauma will break your spirit if you keep it hidden away. Megan knows this only too well and holds nothing back in the candour of her lyrics.

The song-writing approach in the first eight songs is simple. Pound the listener into submission with monstrous drop-tuned grooves and flay them with unrepentant words of truth. ‘X my <3 (Hope to Die)’ and ‘Extremist’ take aim at the hypocrisies of organised religion. The former challenges the level playing field of original sin. The latter retains an admirable will to see the other side of the argument: “I will fight for what you believe in and your right to practise religion/ But when you use it as ammunition, that’s when you take away our right to freedom.” Imagine these words fed through the breech-loader of a Big Bertha siege gun. You get the picture.

A strangulating mood of claustrophobia haunts Negative Energy like a sequel to Korn’s Life is Peachy. Back in the day, that record sounded like an imprisonment of the mind with no hope of recovery. The same despair purveys through Vexed’s songs up until the first hint of melody at track number ten, where the double-header of ‘Trauma Euphoria’ and ‘It’s Not the End’ retrace the sorrowful footsteps of the first album. It’s surprising how little Megan uses her melodic voice on this record. The chorus in the latter marks it as a clear follow up to fan-favourite, ‘Aurora’, from Culling Culture. Anyone who has lost a close friend or relative will know the meaning of the lyrics to the latter. Megan lost her beloved grandfather in 2021. ‘It’s Not the End’ is her way of saying goodbye and remembering him. “All my greatest moments/ You were right there by my side/ No matter what it took to get there/ You’d make the sacrifice/ Watching you deteriorate whilst putting on the bravest face broke my heart in a million ways.” Those of you that felt lost after a recent bereavement experience (like this reviewer) can find comfort in these words.

We probably don’t give lyrics the importance they deserve in metal. Vexed are like Venom Prison – you can’t wait to open the lyric booklet when the new album arrives in your hands. Yet we should not overlook the stellar projections of guitar on this LP. Jay Bacon inserts technical scale fills and divebomb effects in the few moments where his instrument can find oxygen. His slamming palm-muted techniques in ‘Panic Attack’ will leave you with a stress fracture. The colourful guitar solo at the end of ‘Trauma Euphoria’ reminds you why this band are a favourite of the Tech Fest scene.

Megan Targett has a platform, and she uses it to challenge everything from nepotism in the showbiz world to the self-righteousness of religious intolerance. Surviving domestic abuse shaped the person she is today. Seeing her future crushed by childhood idealisms is hard for her to stomach. Anxiety and depression are two demons that follow her around. Negative Energy is not quite a match for its predecessor, and it’s a dark rabbit hole to explore for a sophomore album. But it’s a solitary confinement that speaks to the pent-up emotions and paralysing doubts at the back of your mind.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 23/06/2023

Record Label: Napalm Records

Standout tracks: Anti-Fetish, Panic Attack, It’s not the End

Suggested Further Listening: Korn – Life is Peachy (1996), Alpha Wolf – A Quiet Place to Die (2020), Frostbitt – Machine Destroy (2023)