The Bay Area metal scene gets the love that it deserves for its part in anchoring the 1980's U.S. thrash metal scene. It is where METALLICA found its voice, as well as propagating discussions of "The NEXT Four", which often include some combination of the area's heavyweights TESTAMENT, DEATH ANGEL, and/or EXODUS. That region of California often gets short-changed in discussions of the more extreme corners of the genre. Acts such as AUTOPSY and EXHUMED are important building blocks in the death-grind movement. NOOTHGRUSH is celebrating twenty-five years of generating doom-laden sludge that is as crushing and nihilistic as anything by the more celebrated EYEHATEGOD. Modern acts such as NECROT and ACEPHALIX are releasing beautifully ugly death metal. It is members of the last two bands — alongside Leila Abdul-Rauf from Bay Area classic-metal wizards HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE — that provide the backbone for the one of the best death metal records of the year, "Orificial Purge", the latest from Bay Area supergroup VASTUM.
The group started to stand out on their own with 2013's "Patricidal Lust", but VASTUM's latest record sees them further developing their musical cohesion to the point where it feels like the product of a full-time band at its peak instead of a collection of musicians from other bands. "Orificial Purge" coats a more primal death metal sound with the scuzzy layer of crust-punk production aesthetic that is found on many of the best works from the Bay Area's underground metal scene. Daniel Butler's guttural growls have a tortured rasp that lend extra grime to his frontman work with ACEPHALIX, and from "Dispossessed in Rapture (First Wound)"'s opening moments, gives extra urgency to the band's more ornate compositions. Guitarist Leila Abdul-Rauf (HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE) also provides some coarse shrieks of her own, but Butler's performance grounds the record with a layer of blackened filth.
Abdul-Rauf and fellow guitarist Shelby Lermo (ULTHAR) have also put together some of the best low-key guitar work in extreme metal this year. This is most evident on "I On The Knife (Second Wound)", a rousing track that begins with a super-dexterous beginning before settling into a pit-opening mid-tempo trudge that eventually leads into a dizzying guitar solo which scores high in both technicality and discordance, while a hefty crunch riff stays locked in a strong groove underneath. "Abscess Inside Us" sounds like MEGADETH attempting to be "Mega-Death", starting off as a catchy mid-tempo stomper before developing into a steady bludgeoning gallop of a track, all while the bass work of Luca Indrio (ACEPHALIX/NECROT) and drumming by Chad Gailey (NECROT) complement the technical musical destruction.
Outside of a 2018 split release with Denver's SPECTRAL VOICE, "Orificial Purge" is the first release by VASTUM since 2015's "Hole Below". The only negative about their latest record is that given the length of time those already on the bandwagon have been waiting, the 35-minute run-time does feel a bit too abrupt. But with the group's death metal hitting hard and firmly locking into a solid groove — combined with the increasing rarity of an album leaving you wanting for more — we'll take it.