Here’s how this happened:
In a MISCELLANY post earlier this week I wrote about a NY band named Røsenkøpf (who, btw, I am still really digging). As I usually do, I messaged the band and their label (Wierd Records) about the post, y’know, in order to improve the chances that it would be read by at least two people. I got a nice note back from Pieter at Wierd Records. He suggested that I might also like another Wierd release by a band named Vaura, who he said included members of Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, Kayo Dot, Blacklist, and more, and he kindly shared a download link.
So, I’m a big fan of Dysrhythmia and Gorguts and have been intrigued by the few songs I’ve heard by Kayo Dot, so I downloaded Vaura’s February 2012 debut album, Selenelion, having no more idea about the music than the brief description Pieter provided — an “interesting collision of black metal and ultra dark post punk”. (I later realized that Vaura had received quite a bit of attention when Selenelion was originally released, and I had overlooked it because . . . well, I’ll explain why later.)
Yesterday I went to the gym. For me, this is not a frequent or regular occurrence, but over the last six or nine months I seem to have acquired a jelly roll around my mid-section, like some alien spawn that burrowed into my navel while I was sleeping off last Thanksgiving’s feed and has been reproducing inside me ever since. Because that tire around my belly that makes me turn away from the mirror in disgust can’t really be me, can it? So I’ve resolved to try and beat that fucker into submission with some brutal iron-pumping.
I like to go to the gym at an hour when the only other gymnasts there are old people trying to loosen up their arthritic limbs in a futile effort to stave off the Grim Reaper, instead of hot chicks who would laugh at me, or worse still, ignore me. But, I still need music when I brutally pump iron, so I won’t hear myself gasping and whimpering like an abused dog. I decided to load up my iPod Shuffle with the Vaura, figuring that if the band included anyone connected with Dysrhythmia and Gorguts, it would give me a good injection of adrenaline, which I would need in order to achieve three repetitions instead of two on the bench press and bust out five sit-up’s instead of four.
Man, did I get a surprise.
At first, the music really distracted me from the brutal iron pumping, partly because I was surprised by the sounds (even more surprised than by how much it hurt to lift weights that I used to lift easily back when I had a full complement of testosterone), and partly because I found the music so . . . mesmerizing.
Time passed. The old people were giggling at me, but fuck them, I didn’t care. I felt like a dark lord who could silence them with a look, because I was seeing the giant gears of the cosmos turning, I was sensing tortured souls adrift in the ether, I could see the birth and death of stars and the behemoths that dwell inside the earth. Like some other kind of alien spawn, that Vaura album was taking up residence in my head.
The rest of my gym session passed like a dream. I was trying to make mental notes of what I was hearing, and then I would hear something else, and those notes would turn to smoke and take the shape of wraiths swooping in and out of my consciousness. The old people morphed into otherworldly beings, creatures of light and dark, radiant but sometimes ghastly, baring sharpened teeth.
It dawned on me that I had come across one of those albums that best worked its magic when heard as a whole, one of those archetypal musical journeys best not interrupted or sampled in pieces. The full effect of the spell required the completion of the ritual. I got the full dose, from beginning to end, and it has stayed with me.
And how had I missed Selenelion? I think I missed it because it’s so different from what I usually listen to. An argument could be made that it’s not even really metal (though I think it is). But whatever you choose to call this genre-bending music, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
It is intense music, sometimes intensely sublime and sometimes intensely electrifying. It incorporates so many different musical elements, drawn from a multitude of genres — ambient, “shoegaze”/drone, black metal, post-punk, post-rock, progressive metal, psychedelia, and more. The compositions are often complex, yet so well-conceived that they draw you in deeply and then move you forward willingly, fascinated by where you are and curious about where you will be taken next.
Much of what I heard had a wistful, even melancholy mood, some of the atmospherics verging on the darkness of loss or even despair, but even more so conjuring feelings of hope and warmth, and a sense of transcendence. On the whole, it’s more harmonious than dissonant, but the dark, dissonant passages come at the right times — and they’re intense (there’s that word again). They prevent you from getting too comfortable or too confident that you’ve figured out what this band is all about.
I should add, given the name of this site, that the singing is almost entirely clean, but I was really taken with Joshua Strawn’s voice. It’s strong and clear, and it has a haunting, sometimes ghostly quality that meshes perfectly with the music. Sometimes he uses it as another wordless instrument, intoning sounds that vitally enhance the band’s success in creating atmosphere and mood. And sometimes, as on “The Uncreated Light (Transfiguration)”, he lets loose with some scarring growling, or ghastly howling, as on “The Zahir”.
Kevin Hufnagel’s guitar performance (both electric and acoustic) is incredibly varied and brilliantly executed. I loved hearing Toby Driver’s bass dive deep and hard, and then surface in the mix in a bounding frolic. And Charlie Schmid’s drumming is a thing of beauty all by itself, moving from massive tribal pounding to intriguingly complex patterns, and sometimes to full-on blasting.
At the end of my gym session, I felt sore and wimpy on one level, and on another level Vaura had made me feel invigorated, peaceful, wise, and a little evil, too.
Much earlier this year, Brooklyn Vegan provided a full-stream of Selenelion, and the SoundCloud player is still working, so I’ve embedded it below, along with an official video for the song “Drachma”. Also, Vaura have a Bandcamp page (here) where you can download another song, “Obsidian Damascene Sun”, for free, and “Drachma” can be downloaded for free at Stereogum. You can learn more about Vaura’s activities by visiting their Facebook page, and Brooklyn Vegan also has an informative interview of Josh Strawn and Kevin Hufnagel at this location.
By the way, though I have a difficult time picking out any one song as my personal favorite, if forced to choose I’d probably pick “The Zahir” or “The Uncreated Light (Transfiguration)” . . . because they’re dark and dissonant and hard-edged, as well as beautiful.