The metal scene in Portland, Oregon came to our attention with the magnificent debut album from Coffin Apartment. Now we have another artist from the same city, and they’re just as interesting.
Vulnere play unrelenting death metal, but don’t let that misguide you into thinking their art is one dimensional. Imagine if Swiss avant-garde black metallers, Schammasch, embraced a Floridian sound with a smattering of Earache Records’ finest artists and roped in Gorguts to spruce up the guitars. Not one of the ten tracks remain innocuous underneath the brutal onslaught, and that’s a testament to the effortless technicality of the musicians.
‘Forced Relocation’ is a blistering start to the record with mid-range death growls and a maze of angular drop-B riffs. This is how drums should sound – minimal reverb, enhanced by subtle human imperfections and captured on tape as if recorded in a school gymnasium. In other words, the patterns a monumental drummer can replicate live. Jesus, this is frenetic! We’re already at riff number four by the time the band reset the tempo and dynamic with a melodious clean guitar passage. You just never know where they’re going on this track, which sets us up for the carnage to follow on ‘Course of the Sirens’ and the magnificent, ‘Of Sorcery and Compensation’. The latter thrives on superb interplay between guitars and drums in the opening bars and would not be out of place on Death’s 1998 classic, The Sound of Perseverance. Here, guitarist, Mike Ashton, steps out of his death metal comfort zone and explores some unorthodox chord formations and puts drummer, Cody Pulliam, through his paces with a flurry of rhythmic contortions. The imaginative guitar solo is as entrancing as the last twenty seconds of ambient field recordings the band use to end the song.
For proof of Vulenere’s determination to bring something new to the old school death metal (OSDM) sound, look no further than ‘Subterranean Womb’. This is the one track on Igneous that sticks to the same riff for longer than one minute before gliding through whispering guitar passages and jazz drum patterns. You’ll not remember at what point they modulated into blast beats or how they transitioned to a storming death metal attack. This could be the band’s signature sound if they explored it more often. We could call it the ‘sorcery of tempo variation’ if it made sense to anybody other than this reviewer.
Every so often, Igneous falls victim to the predations that curse most death metal bands. On ‘And They Fall’ they cram too many notes into four minutes of tech-death bludgeoning. Yet they compensate for this with a determination to keep you second guessing every time you expect a slam riff or double-bass drum assault. ‘Granite Ziggurat’ is the best example of this approach. Introspective shades of Cynic and Dialogia mix with atmospheric black metal passages and plenty of downward palm-muting to give the song a range of metallic styles not obvious on first listen. Vocalist, Mark Smith, leaves his imprint on the track like a boot on wet cement.
The ringing chords and fast double-kick drums on closing track, ‘Descending into Agility’, capture the dystopian mood best and hint that Vulnere’s future might lay in a dissonant avant-garde realm, like Gorguts. If that is the case, this is a fine debut album to burnish their death metal credentials and sets them up to explore new textures on their next release. A tour with a band like Ulthar in 2021 would be the logical next step for these Portland natives if somebody out there could make it happen.
Release Date: 23/10/2020
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Forced Relocation, Of Sorcery and Compensation, Subterranean Womb
Suggested Further Listening: Ulthar – Providence (2020), Gojira – The Link (2003), Gorgatron – Pathogenic Automation (2020)