Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! by Vile CreatureRelease date: June 19, 2020
Label: Prosthetic Records
The role of someone who reviews music is both glorious and fraught.
Clearly hearing music prior to it being officially released more widely is a pretty amazing perk of the job and it can also be truly rewarding to, in however small a way, lift up and amplify acclaim for a deserving artist.
It can also be fraught, and perhaps not in the way you would expect. Sure, delivering a negative review, even if it’s hopefully constructive, is a bit awkward, but that kinda goes with the territory. What is far more difficult in the writing process, is delivering a piece of literature that conveys enough to the reader to differentiate between records that are good, great, excellent, or truly out of this world, without resorting to the cheat-code of giving a score. And what does the latter even mean, anyway? A 7/10 for one record is still surely vastly different to a 7/10 for something else…? Before descending into naval gazing, my real reason for opening up the review of the new Vile Creature record Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! in this rather obtuse way, is that adjectives can get overused, phrases can become passé and one can at times in a review fall into fits of hyperbole for a record that really is only that aforementioned 7/10.
So, please don’t underestimate what I’ve written when I say that Vile Creature’s third full-length album is a game-changing moment for the genre they operate in. Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is going to be influential. It’s one of those albums. Future doom and sludge – and a pantheon of other genres too, I’m sure – will have this record to thank for the foundations on which their own frameworks rest. But that bold, daring new step will be revered and belong to one band and one band only.
What, pray tell, is this new path forged?
Vile Creature have somehow, masterfully, created a duality whereby all the elements that make up the ferocious, dark, introspective, caustic negative space of a sludge/doom album remain yet – crucially – have inverted that very model to focus on the kind of introspection that forges a recovery: transformation, acceptance, learning, positivity and even joy. This nascent sound and adjoining consequential perspective are so deeply encoded in the rumbles of guitar, clatter of percussion and complimentary vocals that it is impossible to unspool the helix that encodes the duo’s writing and execution. It is not possible to point to a passage here or there and write a sentence saying, ‘here’s where it’s sad’ and ‘here’s where the mood turns’, because that bit where it does sound wretched and as if a mind is crumbling also sounds cathartic and rejuvenating and the passage that may sound uplifting has the sombre context of the past baked into it.
The cover of the album itself certainly suggests that the listener is not going to be treated to an experience they are accustomed to. Danika Zandboer’s stunning framing and photography, Bri Duguay’s soon-to-be-iconic pose and Stephen Wilson’s delicate drawings and spacious layout all coalesce to create a look that conveys a coherent, recognisable message, but through an entirely atypical prism and palette for the genre in question. This, in essence, is a mirror to and perfect foil for, the sonic wonders within.
Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! is an album of intimate visceral beauty. ‘Harbinger of Nothing’ opens the record as an eleven-minute track that showcases Vile Creature’s unique sound immediately – realising a song that is both unrelentingly heavy, yet utterly tender and supremely personal. Vic and KW have, through some previously undiscovered musical alchemy, infused every second of this album with raw ‘might have to look away, it’s just too much’ emotion; primal, conflicted, anguished, yet reverentially hopeful. Forget about heart on sleeve, this is soul etched on forehead.
Like the best acts before them, such as Neurosis and Khanate, Vile Creature are pushing their chosen genre forward into unknown, often uncomfortable, seemingly paradoxical realms. Although one can hear a through-line from their previous efforts, 2015’s A Steady Descent into the Soil and excellent 2018 offering, Cast of Static and Smoke, Vile Creature are not refining a sound here, but conjuring something new entirely.
‘When the Path is Unclear’ is a fantastic example of this. A casual listen would surely cause a head to turn and the listening experience suddenly not be so casual after all, but on the surface level, should one choose a lack of focus, it might seem to only be a high-quality, filthy sludge behemoth – another eleven-minute revelry in all that is wretched. But it is so, so much more: a paean to invention, creativity, the ever-shifting sands of emotion, brio, and choices in life. The scope of vision all the music this record holds, surveys and processes is breath-taking. It is drenched in personal thought and strong messages, but it is also a suite of tracks with which one can project one’s own innocence and experience upon. The record is also fun, too, with the epic second track ending with spoken word from KW informing the listener that Side A of the vinyl is concluding, reminding me somewhat of Kayo Dot’s menacing yet irreverent ‘Don’t Touch Dead Animals’.
Third track – and ‘Side B’ opener’ – ‘You Who Has Never Slept’ is titanic in its power, and surely wears the crown for the most crushingly heavy moment on the record. Subjugating the listener under a veil of compressed, ultra-downtuned riffs and pounding, almost feral drums, the ferocity only lets up for a dual spoken word piece that encapsulates the thematic inclusive nature; the subject of Vile Creature’s ire, vim and demand for a clearer, better future. The duo has never shied away from their political stance on numerous topics. Alongside the topics of loss, grief and depression that are staples of the genre, Vic and KW deal lyrically with issues such as being steadfastly anti-oppression of any kind and investigate the nuance of conversations pushing for queer and trans rights. It is absolutely right and long overdue that metal – and extreme metal especially – reflect the lives, worries and emotions of different communities not only in its community, but also in its actual music. Now, more than ever, it feels the moment to shine a light on those artists leading the way. In this, as in many other ways, Vile Creature are the band we need in 2020.
The record ends with two tracks that form the album title, namely ‘Glory! Glory!’ and ‘Apathy Took Helm!’. If the first three tracks had any grounding in the blueprints of yore, the final fourteen-minutes of this album, become sublimely untethered. The duo just… let go.
Both feature soaring choral vocals that vaguely remind me of the atmosphere Mare invoked on their one and only self-titled EP. It also features Tanya Byrne of Bismuth (who have themselves an album forthcoming on Prosthetic and who the duo has collaborated with for Roadburn [now delayed to 2021]). But, aside from that one oblique point of reference in Mare, I struggle to really give the closing of this magisterial LP its dues in written form. It is epic, it is jaw-dropping, it is eclectic, it colours in the rule book with the wrong colours and outside the lines… It is… Well, it had me in tears. How I want them to (somehow?!) play this live, but damn, I’m also pretty sure I’ll be an utter mess if they do. I’ll be sobbing in the corner. If you see me, just leave me there, though… Because, reader, they are tears of euphoria, of joy, of rejoicing at life during this utterly relatable yet completely alien barrage of sonic gymnastics. The two tracks are the zenith of what the band achieves on this album and clearly is the Everest in their discography to date.
Vile Creature have crafted something supremely special in Glory! Glory! Apathy Took Helm! An album that embraces and rejects sludge and doom’s tropes all at once. It’s Schrödinger’s Doom. The duo has found a new language with which to convey their message of positivity and it’s a language screamed, but that is, in turn, deeply pleasurable to the ear. It’s tonal umami for your brain and for your heart. Rather than malaise, indifference, and an introspection that eventually becomes unhelpful and troublingly hurtful, Vile Creature have exploded the lone pursuit outwards; a broadcast to take ownership, demanding creativity and deeper thought, and striving for – clawing at – the most important thing we can have for one another and for ourselves: love.