Written by: The Administrator
My favorite albums of the year are, more often than not, those that sneak their way into rotation...and then simply never leave. The ability to maintain interest over months and months of listening is a surefire mark of a good album, and Asundre, the excellent debut from London's Vulgaris, has managed to qualify itself pretty damn handily. This thing came out towards the end of February, and it is a rare thing indeed to locate a week since wherein it hasn't reared its multifaceted heads.
At this rate, Asundre certainly stands as one of my most-listened albums o' the year thusfar, which, in turn, probably means I should actually find a soapbox and start appropriately proselytizing. Hence:
When a band bills themselves as "black metal with death metal, thrash, doom and post-metal influences," you know you're in for a bit of a wild ride. Here, that ride is surprisingly stable, with a strong sense of cohesion serving as the glue that holds seemingly disparate elements together. It is albums like Asundre, frankly, that illustrate how broad and ineffective our system of generalized genre categorization can be. Vulgaris, for the sake of simplicity, focus black metal's intrinsic bite with a more traditional heavy metal lens. This album's trim sub-40 minute runtime is characterized by both an abrasive and aggressive edge and a hard rockin' melodic sensibility, which, when combined, makes for a collection of tunes as earwormy as they are ferocious.
Atmospheric intro "Causeway" launches headlong into "Six Rivers," a lengthy opening track proper that nonetheless manages to justify its length by benefit of a whole lot of cool ideas. There’s a front-heavy gallop that drives the track forward with a relentless energy, but the track respects the limits of the audience’s attention, tastefully leaning into some slower passages to break up the frenetic assault. “Six Rivers” is first and foremost a guitar track. Equally vicious and somber, the guitar never falters or neglects its firm grasp. Another hugely notable aspect are the vocals, which are sharply harsh and raucous, yet never feel unhinged. Demonstrating control is inherently difficult to do given the bombast and rough-around-the-edges appeal of the component sonic parts, but, as is evident across the album as a whole, Vulgaris understand quite well how to write a song that justifies its own magnitude. This is a fantastic track, and one that I would certainly recommend to anyone trying to get a feel for what exactly this crew can do.
It's quite telling that defining my favorite track on this beast has been an impossibility. The aforementioned "Six Rivers" accomplishes everything a lead single should. "Separation Anxiety" ups the ante when it comes to freneticism, representing black 'n' roll at its most engaging. The title track, which is a slower but simultaneously a little more chaotic and noisy by design, feels like a primer in how to make black metal interesting. "Lucid Screaming," a remastered version of the track appearing on Vulgaris' Ex Igni EP, features tasty NWOBHM-esque riffage and some prominent basswork, which both serve to give the whole track a hugely dynamic edge, particularly when juxtaposed with the blistering vocals. Closer "Thrillkiller" boasts a massively chantable chorus, as well as an extended midsection that presents a well-timed breather. The only track that feels a tad undercooked is the intro--while effective at setting a stage, it doesn't feel entirely reflective of that which follows. Asundre is quite lean, and "Causeway" presents the only fat worth trimming, in this scribe's humble estimation.
Critically, a lusher production job would certainly help the brightest moments shine a little brighter, particularly in the tap-tap-tap percussion department. That said, given the in-house DIY reality, the production is not bad in the slightest, and certainly doesn't detract from the quality of the songwriting in any meaningful way--unless you're the type of person who refuses to see (hear?) the forest for the trees. When dealing with a mix of genres, it's a hard balance to hit between "too raw" and "too polished," but I have no doubts that their next effort will capitalize on the experience garnered herein. At the end of the day, the songs are more than excellent on their own merits, and that's all that really matters.
Asundre is a very good debut. Beyond that, it’s a very good album, regardless of its spot in what I can only hope will be a burgeoning discography. While one always runs a risk of alienating the fans of component genres when creating something that pulls from various aspects of established sounds, Vulgaris have succeeded inordinately well at creating a piece of work that holds up to scrutiny from multiple angles. Asundre is harsh, and elegant, and high-octane, and somber, and frenetic, and, above all, consistently interesting. It is an album that simply works. Despite a whole lot of listens under my belt, I highly doubt I’ll be shelving it anytime soon. Vulgaris is the Latin term for the unremarkable common masses, but in a clever twist of irony, Vulgaris are most decidedly anything but. Needless to say: highly recommended.
Vulgaris - Asundre was released Feb. 26th, 2021, and can be streamed/purchased here!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!