(For this new edition of a column devoted to lyrics in metal Andy Synn was fortunate to obtain insights from the two lyricists and co-vocalists of the Bay Area death metal band Vastum, whose latest album Orificial Purge was released last fall by 20 Buck Spin.)
We’ve written about Californian Death Metal crew Vastum several times before here at NCS (and just take a look here if you don’t believe me) but this is, if I’m not mistaken, our first time talking to them directly.
This piece was also meant as a precursor to the band’s upcoming dates in the Pacific Northwest region but – for reasons I’m sure no-one will be surprised by – those have now been put on hold.
Still, any opportunity to learn more about the group’s work, their drives and methods and inspirations, is one well worth taking, so I encourage you all to take some time and enjoy the following edition of Waxing Lyrical, which features responses not just from Vastum’s lead singer Daniel Butler but also his co-vocalist/co-lyricist (and half of the band’s guitar tag-team) Leila Abdul-Rauf, who have together gone above and beyond to provide us with a double-scoop of lyrical insight this time around.
Daniel: Vastum was never the kind of band where the instrumentalists (other than Leila) wanted to write lyrics. Seems like it was understood that I had plenty of my own ideas, and that the ideas I had were an important part of shaping the band’s aesthetic.
Vastum has very talented lyricists (Luca/Necrot, Shelby/Ulthar), but only Leila provides input on my lyrics, and Leila and I more or less work as a team, even if most of our lyrics are written separately.
Leila: I’ve been writing lyrics as long as I’ve been playing in bands, since my teens. Dan and I have been the chief lyricists of Vastum since the beginning. It’s our ultimate area of collaboration. We usually write our lyrics on our own, but when it’s time to record our vocals for a new album, we each give valuable input to each other’s lyrics, vocal ideas and song titles.
The rest of the band isn’t usually included in this process, but sometimes we’ll ask for their input regarding song and album titles to get an objective opinion if we find ourselves in a state of doubt, which has been helpful.
Leila: Dan and I split lyric writing in such a way that we each write all the lyrics for one song, and when it’s time to record a new album, we spend time together dividing up the lyrics so that both of our voices are equally represented on each song.
I guess you can say that is our concrete process in the practical sense. I don’t think I can really pinpoint my own abstract creative process and what moves me to write. I usually write lyrics for the songs I write the music to – it just feels natural for me to do so – and the music is usually in place before the lyrics.
Sometimes the evilness of the riffs alone put me in the right state of mind to write lyrics, or sometimes it just takes me thinking about the most horrible thing I can think of, and the words start to flow on the page.
Daniel: Dreams, eroticism, violence, vague memories, dissociation, inchoate emotions, visceral or somatic states, experiences in meditation and psychoanalysis – these are my sources of inspiration.
Certain forms of literature (philosophy, mysticism, psychoanalysis) are also huge sources of inspiration. I have a longstanding interest in Georges Bataille and psychoanalysts like Wilfred Bion and Jean Laplanche. I’ve written songs about many of their ideas.
Leila: This excerpt of lyrics to the song “The Misshapen Horror” by Nuclear Death I find particularly inspiring:
Dare we speak,
lest our voices be heard above the din
of an unnatural birth,
a birth of many generations at once
and we its keepers watch
this horror from below take form…
slowly they scatter
away from their blemished “nests”-
oftspring born inside out
moist organs adorning breast and torso
and from their bowels they nurse…
So what purpose would these serve?
A creature which mates itself
and spawns visceral demons!
Daniel: Leila’s selection is excellent – Nuclear Death are a big influence – but I like to pair brutality and horror with something like Daniel Corchado’s emotive, mystical, and more psychological approach. The Chasm’s “Confessions and a Strange Anxiety” is a good example:
Will I ever be free? With my heart and soul
I walk these colossal times, with you and the hallucination
Caressing the flames of your eyes
The deepest of my sorrows
And once more time I’m alone
A Crashing tide of grief washed over me
Blinded by bitter tears of rejection
And the sound of grey aspirations…
In this Inner Temple I’ll die, in my cosmos within I’ll fly
Towards the pyramid of feelings, I’ll walk so far away
I thought that you were the one, my sad heart kissed my tears
As the moon and stars are gathering
“I must kill the present
And respect the unseen future”
I walk these colossal times, caressing the flames of your eyes
The statues of my voluntary fall
Will stand until the sand covers me…
The sand will cover me, and once more I’m alone…
Daniel: My lyrics have become more dissociative. I use abstract thoughts to evoke bewildering connections that might be difficult for the reader to make sense of. This means the songs are about something more than anyone can ever say they’re about.
Words fail to capture an excess of meaning, and so they communicate that excess inadvertently. This isn’t just about language failing to contain its many meanings, but about my attempt to produce that failure deliberately, even if at the same time – and this is a paradox – I’m trying to write free associatively (the deliberate use of language and free association are typically understood to be opposites).
In that sense I hope my lyrics evoke highly dissociative, deeply depressive, or even psychotic uses of language, but this is a difficult thing to achieve – the pressure to make meaning in what I write is strong, which means that inevitably there’s a play of intelligibility and confusion.
Leila: I don’t think my process has changed much over the 10 years we’ve been a band. If anything, I’m probably regressing instead of progressing…
Daniel: “Patricidal Lust” is loosely written about one of the most disturbing, dreamlike memories that I have of my father. Something about my identity consolidated in that memory, but what’s disturbing is that that “memory” might just as easily have been dream.
Lyrically I want to ask the listener to imagine their entire life, their entire history as a dream, and to imagine that at the navel of the dream, following Freud, exists a void. This is an impossible ask – how does one imagine a void? – but I guess I’ve always seen my lyrics as forays into the impossible.
Spill your seed
Into my father’s tears
All over my body
Seared into the object
The stench of his chest splayed open
Leila: An underrated fave of mine is the last song on our second album, Patricidal Lust, “Repulsive Arousal”. We used to play it live all the time but not so much these days; I really miss playing it!
The chorus describes a disorienting experience with an authority figure, one that can’t be remembered as real or dreamed, that’s horrific and pleasurable at the same time, but is also so traumatic that it slips away from consciousness, in order to be able to survive and function:
Violated, a sickening pleasure
Disgusted by the fantasy
Mind conquered by lawless desire
Sublimated by lack of memory
Blackness turns to grey upon consciousness
Shadows shrink as daylight hits my retina
Forgetful, I awake
Leila: “His Sapphic Longing” is the last song on the newest album, Orificial Purge.
It’s actually kinda similar to “Repulsive Arousal” lyrically, but the interplay between mine and Dan’s vocals heightens the sensation of confusion and horror, with more religious imagery infused and a more “cycle of violence” feel to it:
Say a rosary
(For our father)
Kiss his feet
Lick his finger
He tells you
You’re a real ride
Is it his or yours? (confused by)
It isn’t yours to know (the impulse)
Reach beneath the cloth (slip inside me)
Nobody will save you (from this rapture)
His sapphic longings gagged and bound
Inside the phallic tomb his father gave unto him
Daniel: My lyrics got stranger after particularly intense moments in my personal psychoanalysis, moments that coincided with the writing and production of Hole Below. Of our new songs, “I on the Knife” might be a good example of this shift.
The song is about command behaviors that highly dissociative individuals sometimes experience. Some psychic agency commands them in an almost hallucinatory way to perform certain acts, and they do so without any recollection of that performance. Time is lost to amnesia.
The curious thing about amnestic memory is that it’s like a waking dream you don’t remember, which makes me wonder if our nocturnal dreams are amnestic in their own right: behind the images in our dreams, isn’t there also a void into which so many of those images fall, never to enter consciousness or unconsciousness again?
But returning to the question, “I on the Knife” captures some of the strange, dissociative tendencies in my lyrics:
Look, touch it with your finger
Square hole, hell
Cut your palm, then slice it
Blood running down your arms
Running down your neck
Sit down, hurts
Take the knife, slice your thighs next
Blood pooling abyss
Rushing out like emptiness
(There is no time)
In the fire of exigence
(There is no time)
Leap, you fall on the hole
You, trying to die
Leapt, searing pain before
This wound is your life
Knowing, cutting, sever your head
Now you sit on the knife
Burning pleasure, unknowing death
Thanks for the thoughtful interview.
[Note: the band originally provided a bigger send-off here, focussed around their upcoming tour dates. However, with these being cancelled, I thought it made sense to excise that section. Still, I want to add my own thanks to Daniel and Leila for participating in this edition of Waxing Lyrical and hope that those shows can be rescheduled sooner, rather than later, for their sake and yours! — Andy]