Gather round, I have a story for ye. Back in 2002, a Phoenix-based death metal group called Vehemence released an album called God Was Created, a work that escaped widespread popularity to essentially become the little engine that could – a cult classic of the genre, if you will. Far from conventional, Created had an odd sound that was melodic without a hint of Gothenburg, preferring instead riffs that combined the open-strummed hardiness of Arghoslent with the evocative melodies of Intestine Baalism. More importantly, it showed a band tossing aside genre conventions to let blossom their bizarre vision and ambition. A concept album about a young man’s fatal obsession with a devoutly religious schoolgirl, Created combined acoustic strumming, sullen spoken word, and guitarwork that alternated between demented and achingly gorgeous, all into an hour-long journey of sexual Jesus fantasies and necrophilia.
All told, it’s actually a brilliant record, and contains one of my favorite guitar riffs of all time. Unfortunately, 2004 follow-up Helping the World to See was the doomed ‘pretty good’ album that followed the classic, earning significantly less praise and coming just before Vehemence’s dissolution in 2005. After reuniting and performing live for several years, the quintet is back with Forward Without Motion. Is it the God Was Created Part II that I was hoping for?
Not quite, but Forward is still a great album in its own right. Right from the start, opener “I Don’t Want To Look Inside” shows there are some clear differences from the Vehemence of old: gone are Nathan Gearhart’s near-brutal death gutturals, which he’s replaced with a higher register growl. Likewise, the production has been revamped to be more modern and vibrant, leading to an unfortunately compressed range and clicky bass drums, but with the welcome addition of better separation between the melodies and the underlying riffing.
And just like Created, it’s those melodies that truly shine. Early highlight “Murdered by the Earth” features pompous rhythm guitars that lead into a terrific old-school solo and a rapturous closing lead, made all the better by the strummed acoustic chords which fade in underneath. Likewise, personal favorite “She Fucks Like She’s Alive” (song title of the year!) tosses in big, triumphant riffs that present an interesting dichotomy between the song’s theme and its music, before a roar of the song’s title beckons a wicked little harmonized riff. Similarly, the lyrical themes continue Created’s explorations of the frightening depths of fanatical devotion, with “Jim the Prophet” recounting the infamous Jonestown suicides by riding a slithering, clean main riff to its closing sample of Jim Jones himself. Follow-up “In The Shadows We Dwell” breaks this measured tempo for a thrashy Deceased-style riff that sounds goddamn hungry.
Admittedly, for all the good moments, there is some fat to be trimmed: second track “Imagining the Loss” is something of a flat moment early in the album, while “A Dark Figure in the Distance” may not have needed an eight-plus minute runtime. Honestly, Vehemence have never been particularly incredible songwriters – even Created felt at times like it stumbled upon greatness rather than intentionally crafting it – but, oddly enough, that actually works to the band’s favor. With their dogged tendency to string ideas together without rush, sometimes never to return to them, the better songs come across less like overcooked compositions and more like natural journeys from one twisted riff to another – the best examples being the aforementioned “She Fucks” and “Look Inside.”
With this, I guess the best thing about Forward is that it’s a comeback record free of the sense that past work was analyzed under a microscope, or knobs were excessively tweaked in a vain attempt to recreate times gone. The signature sound is here, but Vehemence sound fresh, inspired, and, most notably, mature. As the twirling, barreling melodeath of three-and-a-half minute “It’s All My Fault” show, the group know when to hit hard and direct, while the superb soloing and echoey clean picking show they haven’t forgotten the importance of dynamics in an album over 56 minutes long. Created may never be… uh, recreated, but Forward is still an exciting new yarn in the Vehemence storybook, showing immense promise and undoubtedly bringing in a new crop of fans who don’t mind some melody and corpse-lovin’ in their death metal. Recommended.