CVLT Nation has made a name for itself by delving into the caverns of the underground metal scene, projecting bands into our lives that might otherwise not get the proper credit. That’s why you’re here. That’s why I write for this site: the morbid passion and obsession with this style of music. So when the trumpet sounded and I answered the call to arms for the review of VRTRA‘s first offering entitled My Bones Hold A Stillness, I attempted to check my jaded worldview and approach this with an open mind. However, one doesn’t just walk into an album that has been dubbed the “Most Impressive Debut of 2016” lightly. But even with the brick and mortar foundations of skepticism firmly in place, I was not ready for this band.
It’s nigh impossible to really nail down and describe this Sacramento-based five-piece’s sound. They’re not really Black Metal. Or Death Metal. Or Doom Metal. Or Blackened Doom-Metal Jalapeño-infused Tequila followed by whatever sub-genre tag that comes next. In essence, VRTRA are their own entity. A sonic abomination stitched together from a myriad of sounds and influences exhumed from the graveyard of Metal – brought to life and ushered into this decaying world with a delivery that is simply astounding. Even breathtaking. VRTRA have emerged from the horde that is the underground Metal scene and ushered in a staggeringly complex and well thought out first release, a feat that is extremely rare if not almost unheard of these days.
VRTRA slowly creep their way into the meat and bones of “Perpetually Hag Ridden.” Cue creepy guitars and bass. Enter the thunderous pounding of hammers against the earth’s soil. Insert serpentine, raspy vocals matched in turn with the dark chanting of long-forgotten hymns to what exists beyond the darkness. Even as the blast beats fire up and the vocals alternate between hissing curses against humanity and a demonic bellow, VRTRA aren’t ones to be satisfied with staying in one particular dimension of sound. They’re absolutely comfortable with turning the tables – and the listener’s anticipation of what to expect – upside down. Eventually, the fevered assault breaks pace, which gives way to a subdued, melancholy passage that spirals into a landslide of monstrous, terraforming riffs.
Label: Sentient Ruin Laboratories
Consequently, one fact becomes abundantly clear about VRTRA: they have tapped into something coldly unique and darkly enchanting as a united front. Due to such a strong showing on the first song, it’s apparent that setting a bar of comparison was going to be impossible. That conclusion – and the ushering in of the second track entitled The Cold Suffocating Darkness Goes On Forever – further cements the notion that this release is not something to just behold, but something to be heralded and proclaimed. It’s a release that is rife with the sense of a crumbling world cloaked in ash and eternal darkness – a theme I suspect will become their signature undercurrent, one that is born of creepy guitar passages that claw into your soul merged with colossal, Sunn-cabinet-destroying riffs.
If the first and second songs set the tone of the album, consider the title track as the main course into this thorny endeavor. VRTRA aptly display that they do not give an inch in their assault and defilement of extreme metal. The ushering in of storm-bred riffs beckons the listener to plunge themselves into VRTRA’s desolate sound, to weather – even embrace – the tempest which they conjure. Even the more downplayed and solemn moments serve as a portent of things to come; acting as omens and sigils etched into the rock bed of a dying world which they woefully traverse and mourn.
Enhanced even more so on this track – not to mention the other two – is the insertion of chaotic hissing and clicks of noise provided by vocalist Zak, which results in, as one can gather from my glowing review thus far, a truly unique and dark experience. The use of noise is sparse and spread throughout each track, thankfully; used more as a tool to highlight and enhance the delivery of their monolithic sound as opposed to it being an actual instrument. VRTRA have proven that they understand this concept and how it bears relevance in regards to each songs weight. They know when to throw every darkened moment at you, and when to pull back and let the emptiness of existence reverberate forth from their music.
Lyrically, each song is is influenced heavily by their disconsolate, crushing sound. One will not find hymns to Satan or vitriolic slander against God. The lyrics stand to complement the tone and atmosphere of the actual music. Content-wise, each track drags up feelings of hopelessness, despair or insignificance. Perhaps the purest example is the following:
Each passing, monotonous day is utterly meaningless.
Flat time spent mourning my dreams that died.
The unbearable boredom of being alive persists endlessly.
Regrets consume my thoughts like the hags and shadows that devour my sleep.
Obviously, this isn’t an album one spins in order to feel better about their current plight. This is an album to digest while spiraling head first into the darkness of depression funneled through a bottle of cheap vodka and sense of communal abandonment.
Ultimately, when boiled down to its base elements, VRTRA have honed in on something special. As a collective, they’ve managed to wade through all the carbon copy bands that float atop the shit-polluted, tepid river known as “Underground Metal.” Furthermore, the scope and range that they navigate within is terrifyingly majestic. Rather than being a jack-of-all-trades yet master of none, VRTRA have proven that they are capable of twisting and mastering a vast array of influences and ideas. It’s abundantly clear that they’ve refined their sound in the practice space until it mutated and morphed into this hair-raising, bestial release. What’s even more frightening is the fact that this five-piece is just getting started. One can only imagine the inevitable sense of doom felt across the universe if they mustered up a proper full-length.
Simply put, we’re not ready for this. We’re not KVLT enough for this. We’re not TRVE enough. We’re not Metal enough. We’re not Brutal enough. Our battle-vests and unreadable band shirts are looked down upon with scorn by the necromancers who compose the cabal that is VRTRA. They’ve taken whatever sloppy expectation we’ve come to form of new bands and given it a twisted, arthritic middle finger. As of this release, we walk in their world, and are but insects that bicker over the scraps they’ve thrown to us from atop their twisted and reviled spire.