Back in high school, metal fans, me ashamedly included, compared our chosen genre to classical in its proficiency and complexity, and laughed at the other “dumb” genres for their lack of “intelligent” lyrics and themes. What intolerable pricks were we. I can confidently say that, had I been in that woefully immature mindset currently, I would not have enjoyed anything about Vulvodynia. Their second full-length Psychosadistic Design is everything the intelligent pretentious types love to hate: it’s loud, it’s obnoxious, it’s hilariously over-the-top in its lyrical effrontery, and it chugs more than someone getting perpetually annihilated at beer pong. And honestly, I haven’t had this much fun with slamming brutal death metal in years.
Much like you can’t go more than five minutes in John Wick without seeing someone get shot, Vulvodynia outright refuses to play something that’s not a stupidly brutal slam riff for more than thirty seconds at a time. If you want melodies or some arbitrary variety, you’re barking up the wrong tree; you’ll eat slams and you’ll like it. The usual suspects are all present as influences, so if you’re into Pathology, Abominable Putridity, Devourment, Guttural Slug, or the less techy parts of Dying Fetus and Katalepsy, this is right up your corpse-infested alley. There’s nothing new whatsoever here, but it’s all done remarkably well. Vocally, Duncan Bentley is a force to be reckoned with; he does all manner of shrieks, growls, gutturals, and squeals, keeping the vocal front varied and interesting throughout. Additionally, guitarists Luke Haarhoff and Bryan Dunwoody have a great handle on brutal yet memorable riffs, which solves the two main problems that plague most slam: vocal monotony and mediocre riffing.
Due to the above, Psychosadistic Design is a diamond in the rough. Everything here works, from the quarter-speed chugging with squeals over the top to the repugnant pre-song samples. The title track opens the record with a minute of what sounds like the cover in audio form, and then launches into a shockingly hooky series of mid-paced slams. “Grotesque Schizophrenia” has some grotesque riffs that are initially pretty quick for the average slam n’ chug, and the beatdowns near its midsection are made all the more heavy by contrast. “King Emesis” has a great synchronization of chugging and gutturals that makes like Leatherface in an abattoir and forcibly drives its hooks into you. “Wall of Corpses” has such wonderful pinch harmonic abuse that it gives Katalepsy’s “Cold Flesh Citadel” a convincing run for its money, which is quite impressive. While his main band isn’t so great, Oceano’s Adam Warren sounds like an absolute beast on “Depraved Paraphilia” and really helps sell the riffs he screams, growls, and squeals over. To answer Russel Crowe’s immortal question from Gladiator: yes, I am thoroughly entertained.
What may be problematic for some is that there is 48 minutes of material here, and effectively net zero variety. Vulvodynia wisely offsets this potential flaw by having nine (yes, nine) guest vocalists appear throughout the record, which is the same number as Wu-Tang Clan had on The W, for perspective. Bentley holds his own against each of his guests, including Som Pluijmers (ex-Cerebral Bore) and Jason Evans of Ingested. The latter appears on what may be the most outrageous track on a record full of them which, to my great delight, is called “Triple O.G. Slamdown.” “Somebody call the slambulance” is found in the track’s lyrics, and the whole song is a hardly organized grab-bag of all types of brutal slamming death riffs for Evans, Bentley, and Human Error/ex-Acrania’s Luke Griffin to go raving mad over. It’s hugely entertaining, and a raucous way to close the record in style.
I’ve spun Psychosadistic Design far more than I care to admit over the last week. It doesn’t sound lush at DR4, but this isn’t exactly modern Opeth; everything that’s happening is generally audible, and so it sits alright with me. What makes Psychosadistic Design truly remarkable is how unseriously it appears to take slamming brutal death metal while simultaneously being remarkably good at it. On paper, none of this should work; nine guest vocalists, 48 minutes of non-stop slamming, and lyrics which are nonsensically violent to the point of hilarity doesn’t generally make for great results. Alas, Vulvodynia turn everything ludicrous about slam up to eleven, making something so gratuitous that it’s impossible not to wholeheartedly enjoy.
Slam is an inherently preposterous genre, and by embracing that fully and possessing some seriously impressive songwriting chops, Vulvodynia have made the quintessential slam record that I’ve always wanted to hear. It seems like a risible display of ridiculous brutality at first blush, but give it time and an honest chance and soon enough you’ll realize you’re laughing with the band, headbanging maniacally, showing some hammers, and gleefully hitting play again and again.