Why do we love music of such a harsh, ugly aesthetic? Once, during my college years, I was asked this question by a project coach. It wasn’t the first time I heard the question, but it was the most memorable, as for the first time it wasn’t asked as an attack but of genuine interest. I found I did not have a satisfying answer. “It has a furious energy, a certain power that gives me a rush for all its darkness,” was the best I could say. But at the time, I did not yet listen to doom metal, and if I had, it might have complicated my search for a genuine answer further. Because how would I describe the appeal to bands like Vile Creature, a duo who makes deliberate, hideous music that is slow and steady, weaving a tale of five robots fleeing for life and freedom while mankind rots? How do you explain the attraction of something so dark and forlorn when foregoing the injection of adrenaline provided by other ‘ugly’ genres like death metal?
Cast of Static and Smoke is a dense monolith, ruminating on humanity’s self-destructive tendencies, infusing doom metal with unintelligible vocals on the edge of black screeching and sludgy screams. Everything about this album is aesthetically repulsive. The vocals convey a desperate hysteria, gnawing and grinding, often double-tracked as if speaking in tongues. The guitar tone blows its density into overdrive, reminiscent in that aspect of Kroh. Thrice across the album, a woman with a newscaster’s voice describes hideous visions, opening the first track with a detached account of nuclear Armageddon. In the face of these visceral elements, the distorted bass and unwavering drums need only support the vision of post-apocalyptic madness served on these four tracks.
For much of the album, the approach works. After the apocalyptic newscast, “Water, Tinted Gold and Tainted Copper” sets off on its vile journey, initially a scream-filled dirge of crusty, static-laden guitars, then shifting into a hefty, malevolent riff. The desperation is palpable, the atmosphere a meaner, denser Amenra, with grime and filth replacing the Belgians’ depressing splendor. A section of pulsing sludge with matching hardcore vocals emphasizes the dirty attitude of the music. “Circuits, Bending and Breaking” sets itself apart with its slow, deliberate buildup, a riff slowly forming from echoing guitars atop an unwavering drumbeat. The pounding weight slowly increases in intensity until it hits like a stream of sledgehammers. Though a clear climax is absent, the effect when the barrage relinquishes is that of a storm receding and the damage becoming clear with its devastating emptiness.
The latter half is where the album starts to crack, even though it doesn’t quite fall apart. “Forest, Subsists as a Tomb” tries to replicate the buildup of its preceding track, but keeps going for too long despite the not unwelcome interruption of another newscast, this time pertaining a forest clearing where the trees fashion themselves into a tomb. The closer drops the ball completely, forgetting structure altogether and simply droning along in all its filthy glory. Compared to its hard-hitting predecessors it feels almost languid in its approach, losing the chance to go out with a bang. These mistakes wreak havoc on my tenuous attention span and find me tuning out prematurely, despite the effective hypnotic effect of the rest of the album. The grimy atmosphere remains compelling, however, and prevents me from disengaging from the album completely.
Vile Creature have picked their name well. Cast of Static and Smoke is a slow-moving but unstoppable stream of sewage, intent on suffocating the listener with the refuse of humanity. The dense, crushing production is a calculated and potent choice, emboldening the atmosphere of misanthropic revulsion. While they fail to keep the bow taut for the entire running time, I still find myself reveling in the colossal riffs and hypnotically steady drums. I may not always be able to explain to myself why I would love something so aesthetically vile, but I’ll be keeping my eye on this duo for more of their tasty revulsion.