Vastum’s Hole Below, and the feminine in death metal and in life


Vastum is an American death metal band formed by guitarist/vocalist Laila Abdul-Rauf, also of heavy metal/rock band Hammers Of Fortune. Vastum‘s lyrics revolve around the topic of sexuality viewed from the female perspective, and therefore have attracted some attention from identity crusaders in their home country. This group of people can’t contain themselves from claiming ownership, either over music or a particular demographic, provided it aligns appropriately with their political agendas and more importantly makes them feel that their lives are about something meaningful (hint: they aren’t. Your tits will sag, your balls will shrivel back up your abdomen, and you’ll still be posting pity porn on Facebook on the day you die). Hole Below, however, is a solid B-tier effort capable of standing on its own and does not have to flaunt insecure disclaimers to be enjoyed by death metal fans.

The vibe on Hole Below is uniformly grim, and recalls the darker aspects of bands like Autopsy, early Death, Funerus, and early 90s American death metal in general. Played at mid-tempo with the rare breakaway section to introduce momentum or announce an impending climax, songs are not without identity, and are fine case studies in how harmonization between guitars can be used to give greater texture to this self-contained style of death metal. Because the main meat of these songs consists of long-form phrases with little internal motion, this harmonized nature achieves added significance. Lead guitar spots in particular are executed with restraint and without threat to the general mood of the song; the death metal solo has to be atonal and squirming of nature, or at the very least has to conform to the perpetually shifting, keyless nature of the rhythm progression underneath. Vastum understand this, much like the guys in Slayer once did, and come away with an album largely consistent of fabric and vision.

I don’t have access to the lyrics on Hole Below, but the preceding album showcased a theme of mental disintegration against the backdrop of long-term incest. I also learned a new word: dysuria, or painful urination. In any case, the lyrics aren’t written with great claim to literary prowess; I overwhelmingly prefer the work of Lori Bravo on the Nuclear Death album as a genuine example of a troubled mind disclosing its secrets with eloquence and nuance. Be that as it may, no male death metal fan worth his salt refuses women in death metal the right to base their music around whatever subjects they choose, and if that includes violence against men, then so be it. As much as bands like Cannibal Corpse defend their lyrics to be little more than serial-killer horror stories set to death metal – and most psychologically well-formed men take it as just that – the words read as they do, and don’t really permit an alternate interpretation. So, if Cannibal Corpse can sing of such things with freedom, then women ought to be accorded the same right to act out their suppressed desires through music. All we ask is that the music be not used as an explicit vehicle for political intentions; and if the artist finds political haranguing irrepressible, then for the music to be worth its weight in gold. In other words, know your horse and your cart and how to put them together, else be prepared to be called out for ineptitude.

A comment on this blog recently accused me of supporting misogyny. It drew little more than a chuckle, but it made me think: what normal man hates women? My mother raised me and my sister with courage and wisdom when my father was largely absent, and my sister made something substantial of herself when there were little resources to go around. To me they represent tradition and modernity intersecting in harmony to become the very ideal of womanhood. Point being that men respect and admire smart, independent women who haven’t lost the subconscious knowledge of what makes men respect and admire women in the first place. Some feminist is bound to quip, “Oh sure! Respect and admire women as long as they know their place!” at this, but it isn’t so much as women knowing their place as women appreciating that there are in fact legitimate differences between the sexes. Men are better than women in some aspects, and women are better than men in others. Going without a bra and letting your pubic hair grow out in no way bridges this gap, it only show you up as someone with poor social hygiene.

Does misogyny exist? It absolutely does, at least in third world countries like mine with vast social and economic disparity, and a deleterious patriarchy still thriving in much of the country’s interiors. Thing is, these “cool” words – misogyny, disparity, patriarchy, etc – these words have legitimate origins and they should be applied judiciously and only to domains where they truly belong lest they be deprived of their meaning altogether but who cares about that? There are memes to make and likes to gather, and no time to spare on thinking whether you’re draining potent words of their currency only to alleviate your neuroses.

But on the topic of misogyny, India over the last ten years has seen a series of grisly, serial-killer style rapes which can’t be read as anything but a misogyny arising from our rotting socio-cultural fabric. Yes, I understand the contingent factors involved; a stunted, poisoned psyche, suppressed and tabooed sexuality, objectification of women, etc. But what is the cure? The liberal mindset is repelled by capital punishment, but fortunately our judicial system doesn’t seem entirely averse to such a notion. I would even recommend making a public spectacle out of the killing, naturally after due process has been completed with alacrity; one has to acknowledge that an infection spread far enough risks infecting otherwise healthy tissue, and has to be cut out post-haste. A society in a state of moral turpitude cannot afford wasting time on pontificating niceties; it has to act with intent and demonstrate without ambiguity that there is in fact such a thing as a point of no return.

Keeping this in mind, does death metal, or art in general, have to be more responsible towards shaping the society in which it is born? I honestly don’t think so, but if perchance an already-disturbed mind – and it always is a mind already disturbed – is impelled to act upon its urges, then it should be held accountable for its actions in the prescribed manner. Think of art doing society a service in highlighting a previously dormant cancer in its midst.


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