(We are happy to have Kaptain Carbon back with us. On this visit, he helps to commemorate the 10th release of a label called Vrasubatlat. Kaptain Carbon operates Tape Wyrm, a blog dedicated to current and lesser-known heavy metal. He also writes Dungeon Synth reviews over at Hollywood Metal as well as moderating Reddit’s r/metal community.)
It is no secret Vrasubatlat has recently become one of my recent favorite labels and collectives of bands. If you read my previous column on some of my favorite demos of 2016, you will see a glowing endorsement at the top of the page. It is only because this label keeps putting out music that I keep wanting to write about. Once they stop, I will stop as well. I do not know what to tell you. There is just something appealing about music when it feels like an open wound.
This article is to celebrate Vrasubatlat’s tenth release in two years, as well as introduce others to the wild and hellish world of black / death with social issues.
Beginning in 2015, this Pacific Northwest orbit of bands has been under the steady command of two members who share duties and vision across all related outfits. Loosely related to Ash Borer, R and M (as they are known) have put out a cold and systematic stream of material including Uškumgallu’, Triumvir Foul, Serum Dreg, Dagger Lust, and Utzalu.
While these names do not ring the majority of bells, the consistency of Vrasubatlat, combined with both owners’ obscurity, has made this venture exhilarating to follow. If one wanted to get off on the ground floor of raw black and death that has been stripped of all feeling and moral compass, then you have found yourself in the right place.
While the name Vrasubatlat comes from the black speech greeting “Ashdautas Vrasubatlat,” which means “Some Day I Will Kill You” in the fantasy language invented by Tolkien, the bands associated with the label are as far from the traditional fantasy interest as one can get. While this sounds less fun — especially to someone who writes about dungeon synth — the thematic disposition for bands under the Vrasubatlat banner deal exceeding well with abstraction and impressions of psychological horror. These topics tend to be more frightening than orcs and the lands of Mordor. From despondency to death to unmitigated destruction, the sounds of bands like Dagger Lust and Triumvir Foul are echoes of a primitive evil that howls and bellows in tones sometimes unheard. The true horrors of the world are the things that are tangible and as real as you and me.
Demos and the bands which specialize in them are interesting to me. Labels and collectives which specialize in demos can use the medium as a wonderful exercise in short and timely showcases of talent. Vrasubatlat, as well as collectives like Black Twilight and Les Legions Noires, use demos and different bands as quick reactionary works filled with a theme of exploration. Sometimes a band will only exist for one work while another will persist through multiple releases. The band, as seen in a collective, becomes an entity with a lifespan and purpose and is as temporal as its creators want it to be. A collective of bands shared by a few members then becomes like tendrils reaching towards specialized themes. If you want to dedicate yourself to something, why not make a band and explore it to its fullest reaches?
Perhaps one of the largest compliments I can pay this label is the showcase of low fidelity as an enhancement on music. Low fidelity is often misunderstood as being low quality, niche aesthetic, or tool to mask imperfections of the music, but it is the raw nature that really makes these works spectacular. The bare production for these demos is complementary to the stripped nature of the music and themes. Low fidelity is then used to accent music rather than obscure any imperfections. With these demos, one can feel the grit and grime of music that is less than savory for the general public. Use this as a way to blow off that existential steam.
Uškumgallu is the band with the most releases. It is also the band that is the most traditional of this label’s black metal bands. This article was designed to coincide with the label’s tenth release Rotten Limbs in Dreams of Blood, which happens to be from the same band that started the catalog number. With an aggravated persona of noise and fever, Uškumgallu plays black metal in the way one would expect.
This does not mean their releases are ordinary. The intensity of the band’s debut self-titled demo, followed by the more complete sound on Mortifying the Flesh places Uškumgallu’s sound as a great introduction to the world of Vrasubatlat, as it is the most centered of sounds. If anything, this is the band that seems to set the horrid clock, which ticks loudly in the cavernous chamber.
Uškumgallu’s most recent full-length funnels concrete aggression with a harrowing torment into an album which acts as an arching thesis for the rest of the label’s work. Though I enjoy working my way through a catalog in sequence, the last few releases from Vrasubatlat have been exceeding their own expectations.
Dagger Lust is the band with the oddest lyrical focus. Like a mutated version of heavy metal’s sexual undertones, Dagger Lust explores violence, but not in the way that is common among other metal subgenres. This is violence in more of a surreal tableau. The band’s self-titled demo showcases their penchant for depravity, but in the most surreal and unreal fashion. With two songs, one at 9 minutes and the other at 2, the chaos and unfiltered aggression is as jarring as it is fascinating.
This ferocity leads well into the band’s second demo as Dagger Lust pace themselves among three shorter tracks. Though noise and chaos are hallmarks of Aggramica, the rhythm of the drums is the true backbone of this release.
Utzalu is a traditional black metal band with a seemingly unorthodox focus. Along with the suicide and hallucinations listed on their Metal Archives page, other lyrical themes include the works of theatrical naturalist Émile Zola. While literature and black metal have always been strange bedfellows, the academic nature of Utzalu’s focus is strange, especially when paired with harrowing desolation.
Perhaps raw black metal centered around the idea of a world rooted into the very real workings of human behavior and psychology is not that far of a stretch. The human condition seems so much of a more ripe canvas for these bands, and the torture of the spirit appears to be ample inspiration.
The release of Triumvir Foul’s self-titled LP sort of separated it from the rest of the Vrasubatlat catalog before its tenth release. First of all, it is a style of death that has a much richer production. Second of all, it was a full-length. It was for these reasons that it became more popular in comparison to the rest of the releases.
The fact that this is the only full-length in the entire catalog makes Triumvir Foul special, because the release is exquisite. With a foot in the grave of cavernous death, Triumvir Foul takes that style which is currently experiencing popularity and adds razor blades to the front. If one were to look for the most substantial release that has ideas fleshed out in a thesis of spiritual turmoil and existential horror, this would be the place to look.
While the demo nature of Vrasubatlat is perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the label, a solid full-length which breathes fire in dark hallways is a welcome addition.
Serum Dreg is the oddball of the bunch. The band has only made one demo and their sound is a composite of black death cherry-picked around from all the other bands. In my introduction, I spoke about the temporal nature of bands and outfits. Serum Dreg may be a good example of a theme, or tendril of thought, that has reached its natural conclusion. If that is true, then the horror and slow shuffling sound of Impure Blood is the finality of whatever the band members were trying to accomplish.