Being jaded sucks. What once brought you joy now feels like eating soggy bread, and life itself begins to feel like one big 2.5/5.0. Australian trio Vahrzaw seem well aware of this feeling. In their promo blurb for third full-length Husk, the group claims they “have really had enough of the bullshit associated with producing albums, and even EPs. Thus, Husk will likely be the band’s final recording.” Having never made an album myself, I don’t know of what “bullshit” they speak, but I do know it’s probably easy to be frustrated when you’ve been playing blasty, blackened death metal since 1992 and still barely have over a thousand likes on Facebook. Nonetheless debut Defiant proved enjoyable enough back in 2009, even if was sorely overshadowed by Deströyer 666’s similarly titled Defiance that same year. But that’s all in the past — is awareness of apathy enough to fuck it up its wrinkly old ass, or will the crushing load of bullshit simply prove too much to bear?
Let me say from the start that I love Vahrzaw’s style. Right from the beefy chords and diminished clean picking that beget opener “The Traveller,” the first word that comes to mind is “Behemoth,” and these Aussies hold true to that for the rest of these 36 minutes. Drummer Brandon Gawith (Eskhaton) blasts with a refreshing trigger-free performance that mimics Inferno’s on The Apostasy, with his bass drums sounding like boulders ricocheting around a giant pinball machine. Slower rhythms emerge fairly often and there’s plenty of riffs to go around, and while I don’t love the vomited gargles of vocalist/bassist George van Doorn, at least he mixes it up with some deeper growls now and then. Likewise, while the production seems louder than its DR7 would suggest, the guitar tone is suitably fat and ragged, making the instrumentation feel especially commanding.
This all sounds promising, and in that way Husk is a deceiving album. On first listen one assumes repeat visits will elicit more standouts, upon actually returning, it soon becomes apparent that something is very wrong. I’ve always thought it was lazy to say poor music “goes in one ear and out the other,” in the sense that this criticism usually implies to me that someone just wasn’t paying enough attention to what he was listening to. Lo and behold, Husk has proven me wrong, because fuck me if I can remember almost one goddamn thing about this album after listening to it intently almost every day for a week. My criticism is simple but debilitating: these 8 tracks are bloated with what would be transitional riffs on any other record, but here are passed off as the meat of the songs.
You know things are bad when the best description I can think of is “a more boring version of Abominator,” and while Vahrzaw attempt to generate interest with regular tempo shifts or brief atmospheric bits, it only highlights how utterly forgettable most of the guitar-work is. Churning downtuned tremolos and ragged chords hammer forward but memorability is apparently a precious commodity, with most songs randomly shuffling between rhythms and vocal styles while the guitarist seems to play the first thing he came up with when he rolled out of bed that morning. I can practically hear the band saying “Eh, it’s blackened death metal, who cares about the riffs, give the kids some scary artwork and blastbeats and they’ll eat it up.”
Admittedly, tracks like “Fiends in the Aether” and “Kneel Kiss Kill” break the mold with cool melodic tremolo lines that recall Dismember, but these are the exception. For the most part, Husk is a bunch of saber-rattling with plastic swords, and while it’s hard to say anything here is outright bad, the dull music combined with the annoying vomited vocals made this the easiest album to tune out I’ve ever listened to. While the production and performances are respectable, it seems that being jaded sapped all inspiration when it came to writing the music, and thus those looking for something better in this vein are better off spinning the roulette wheel on the Hells Headbangers discography. For everyone else, don’t say Vahrzaw didn’t warn you, because Husk is exactly as barren as its name suggests.