(We welcome back New Zealand writer Craig Hayes (Six Noises), who wrote this review of the debut album by Verberis, which has recently been released by Iron Bonehead Productions.)
The roster of German record label Iron Bonehead Productions reads like a who’s who of pre-eminent cult metal bands. That’s certainly true when it comes to bands who reside in the far-flung isles of New Zealand. Indomitable underground New Zealand bands like Vassafor, Sinistrous Diabolus, Veneficium, Witchrist, Diocletian, Creeping, Prisoner of War, Solar Mass, and Heresiarch have all had storming works released under Iron Bonehead’s banner. And next on the label’s list of uncompromising releases from the southern latitudes is Vexamen: the debut full-length from blackened death metal band Verberis.
Verberis are a secretive group allegedly birthed in New Zealand. But, as Iron Bonehead pointed out when releasing the band’s Vasitas demo in 2014, things are “obscure and uncertain” when it comes to Verberis. Rumours persist about the band’s lineup, but its anonymity remains intact, and maintaining that sense of uncertainty is clearly an important part of Verberis’ modus operandi.
Mystery certainly adds another inscrutable layer to the already esoteric rites found on Vexamen. And the album’s stunning cover art, by Artem Grigoryev, contributes more enigmatic darkness. Anonymity also ensures no ostentatious personalities block the view on Vexamen. What matters here, first and foremost, is the music. But that music isn’t as easily defined as it was on Vasitas, the band’s demo.
Vasitas delivered a choking mix of black and death metal that was clearly inspired by the sub-genre’s progenitors. Personally, I enjoyed the demo’s 600-feet-under aesthetic. But a lot Vasitas’ detail was buried deep in the murk –– far too deep, for some.
Vexamen remedies that issue with Verberis making significant strides in both compositional and production terms. Vexamen has a clearer and more honed sound, but the album also finds Verberis reimagining their potential by willfully ignoring sub-genre restrictions too. There are still abundant raging riffs here, but they’re far more lacerating than they are murk-ridden. The bass guitar on Vexamen is propulsive and palpable as well –– and it sets a key (and thrash-worthy) pace on many songs. The rest of the instrumentation on Vexamen is also more cutting than it is muddied. And even the album’s vocals, which are still howls and growls from the deepest and darkest caverns, feature a more serrated edge.
To be clear, Vexamen isn’t shiny or polished; it’s simply much sharper. Verberis remain a subterranean blackened death metal band, but they push forward into more ambitious territory on Vexamen, so strict signifiers are not so easily affixed. Less murk also means it’s easier to appreciate how much effort Verberis have put into reshaping elements of their sound. So when bass-heavy sepulchral death metal greets you on tracks like “Thanatosia”, “The Primordial Rift”, and “Vexamen”, the clarity means their vitriolic elements sound more original and distinctive. More so than many other blackened death metal bands.
There’s a strong current of Stygian menace to Vexamen. Lengthier tracks like “Flagellum de Igne”, “The Gaping Hollow of Divinity”, and the 10-minute death metal masterclass “Voidwards” find Verberis practicing their cryptic death worship while traveling over doomier and more musically sophisticated landscapes. Those tracks highlight just how far Verberis’ songwriting and arrangements have progressed over the past couple of years. And they also underscore just how much Verberis’ musicianship has improved too.
Don’t mistake all this talk of increased production values or broader songwriting as a signal that Verberis have dramatically changed their thematic approach. From the sounds of it, evil still abounds. Verberis continue to channel horrific sights and sounds from the heart of the abominable abyss. The atmosphere enshrouding Vexamen is still fueled by necromantic negativity. And Verberis are still exploring bitter realms and pestilential planes of existence. So, yes, there are plenty of musical developments here. But there are also just as many steep descents into the chasms.
Ultimately, Vexamen brings us no closer to discovering who Verberis are as individuals. But the album certainly paints a far more formidable picture of what Verberis are capable of creatively. Vexamen is a bold debut, a huge step up from Verberis’ demo, and that bodes well for the band’s future endeavors. The album’s greatest strength is that it sees an iron-willed Verberis exploring possibilities rather than settling for the status quo. That seals Vexamen’s credentials as yet another uncompromising triumph of southern hemisphere metal.