Viatorem – And Yet the Earth Remained EP


London metal quintet, Viatorem, are that rarest of creatures in the genre – they have a political purpose and the right kind of social conscience. Their aim is to challenge the nationalist rhetoric on social media, to speak up for the rights of refugees, and to stop defamatory hate against the LGBTQ community. Of course, they have a stance on climate change – it’s happening before our eyes, and we need to shift time, thought, and resources to halt its devastating effects. So, we take it they’ll be voting Labour in the next UK general election? On a side note, they also write decent music and play their instruments to a high degree of proficiency.

Dogmatic music presented in easier listening formats only works if the wordplay is clever and the metaphors prove ripe for interpretation. This is not a problem when a band uses eight-string guitars, muscular vocals, and pounding drum grooves as the foundations for their message. Opener, ‘Cult of Delusion’, is poignant enough to articulate its anti-fascist stance in the song title alone. You might roll your eyes when the keyboard string arrangements give way to a monosyllabic ‘blegh’, but the crushing guitar distortion and angular rhythms are heavy enough to sink the Chelsea harbour marina. This is the type of music that’s most enjoyable in a live environment, where band and audience can pull aggressive poses and gurn at each other while spinning their heads out of sync (in a polyrhythmic mosh). Brighton prog-metal quintet, GAIA, come to mind in the way the drums and guitars interlock like military hardware shared between two separate branches of the armed forces.

Viatorem make it clear that the guitars are the special sauce in the mix to deliver the heavy goods. You can hear Vildhjarta in the belching riff shapes and low-end violence of the amp overdrive, but you can also identify the influence of The Contortionist in ‘Trigger Discipline’. This is the bravest song on the EP, with vocalist, Ross, demonstrating the power of his harsh voice in the clean parts of the song. The band look to the future utopia where we can live beyond national flags, racial identities, and competing gods: “Soul sacrifice/ Upon the altar of time/ Consign to history/ All flags, old gods, your masters/ Cripple the bastards and join me/ In soul sacrifice.” Lenin and Stalin had similar visions, but look what happened there…

The cerebral elements of Viatorem’s art make you forget how heavy they can be in a room together. ‘Postmortal’ is a fascinating prophecy that big tech and social media will end up ruling us and retarding our intellectual progress as humans, yet the monstrous guitar riffs and vitriolic microphone hostility will leave you with bleeding ears. “From the login to the grave/ Every move that you make/ Has been stored and saved/ In this digital hellscape,” roars Ross. Berkshire prog-metal unit, Archaeon, and US heavyweights, Erra, touch upon similar themes in their music. They also rely less on the power of the guitar tunings to splash the cold water in your face. Sometimes, it feels like a spaceship wants to land on your roof while you sleep.

Closing track, ‘Gehenna’, is not quite the triumph it should be. It’s good to hear the quintet explore different timbres in their music with delicate guitar melodies in the intro, but a weak teenage voice spoils things at the critical moment of the message. “At the end of the world/ When the oceans are boiling, foundations cascading/ The earth gives way/ We’ve sealed our fate.” Imagine these words sung by an emo kid – it makes you want to buy a sports car and drive it over to Sweden to catfish Greta Thunberg. Fortunately, they return to the testosterone world for the chorus with a rousing gang vocal piece.

You can’t accuse this band of predictability even if they imbibe a few of the modern prog metal cliches along the way. Viatorem have a message, and they find a way to articulate it using the heaviest settings. That alone deserves praise, but the edges of these songs suggest their future lies in more progressive soundscapes. Let’s hope they do not find themselves on the wrong side of history when musical tastes change.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 07/07/2023

Record Label: Self Released

Standout tracks: Cult of Delusion, Postmortal

Suggested Further Listening: The Contortionist – Intrinsic (2012), GAIA – Gaia EP (2020), Born of Osiris – Angel or Alien (2021)