There’s something about Vrtra that screams ‘the trve vndergrovnd.’ Maybe it’s the wholly capitalized stylization. Maybe it’s the ambiguous ‘V.’ Maybe it’s the dark artwork with wispy flecks of gray. Maybe it’s their sub-400 followers on Facebook. Maybe it’s that they play one of the least common fusions of metal genres. It’s definitely not their hometown(s) however, as they partly hail from the Bay Area, a home rooted in metal history. Yet thrash they reject: instead, My Bones Hold a Stillness is their debut attempt at encapsulating the towering stature of doom with blackened ferocity. It’s a very decent effort and one which does at least leave a mark.
My Bones… is best described as a heaving beast. It’s unbalanced, unsubtle yet overwhelming and will demand your attention. Though largely dividing its time between huge doom riffs and passages of blackened intensity, these are combined in a very compelling manner throughout. It’s particularly good on “The Cold Suffocating Dark Goes on Forever” which feels like doom but is executed with tremolo-picked guitars and the fusion of the two is quite unique. While a couple of riffs are more easily digestible and will get your head nodding, the three tracks here refuse to retreat to a regular tempo or central melody. The songs shift and refresh themselves as such and while they’re pummeling and disorientating, they’re never offensive or tough to endure. This synthesis of heaviness and accessibility is sure to appeal to some.
Two of the typical explanations I give to my disturbed acquaintances as to why I enjoy extreme metal and harsh vocals is the sense of power invoked and that said vocals are to be treated as a rhythmic or percussive instrument. This is true to the limited extent that it first broke me into the heavier shit. But as metal became more everyday this feeling has faded, to be replaced by a deeper understanding of and differentiation between diverse growls, shrieks or shouts. It’s a credit, then, that My Bones… truly invokes that sense of power. The lurching rhythms and guttural growls of the title track recall the Rancor pit scene from Star Wars VI – I am the Rancor as it crushes and consumes Jabba’s pig-guard-thing. It’s a great sensation and one I didn’t realize I missed until Vrtra landed in my tray.
The reason for the less enthusiastic rating is primarily that I question how much I will return to My Bones…. It is at least competent and ranges as far as impressive but doesn’t consistently engage me sufficiently. This may be due to the long track-lengths but most significantly it doesn’t demand repeat plays when faced with the decision of the next album to which I’ll listen. I enjoy it plenty during its run but will it endure in my rotation until the end of the year? I’m not so sure. Compounding this is the sincere dearth of dynamics in the master. While the thick and muddy mix is fitting, there is no excuse for DR 4 and My Bones… simply sounds worse as a result.
Vrtra will find a place in the library of doom aficionados and are certainly worth a listen. They may stick with others more but for me this record is just a short (30 minutes!) and satisfying-in-the-short-term release which unfortunately does not stack up to the staying power of the myriad great doom released this year. But don’t merely write them off as their power and impact is considerable.