When it comes to kickass black/death metal, New Zealand is apparently the place to be. Last week saw Heresiarch drop their gnarly new record Death Ordinance, and this week it’s Vesicant turn to split skulls with their long-awaited debut Shadows of Cleansing Iron. I generally try to avoid making such direct parallels in my reviews, but there’s so much overlap between the two outfits that it’s difficult not to: they play the same genre (black/death), have the same hometown (Wellington), the same lyrical focus (war), and Heresiarch vocalist N.H. was one of Vesicant’s founding members, playing drums and then bass for the first two years of their existence.
All those similarities aside, though, the two bands do have their own distinct styles. Heresiarch are much more on the death metal end of the spectrum in terms of their riffs and tempos, but Vesicant incorporates more slower elements into their sound that remind me a bit more of a band like Temple of Void. In many ways, the music on Shadows of Cleansing Iron coils instead of raging, with guitarist Profanum’s splendid assortment of tendril-like riffs leading the charge.
The band’s name, which refers to a gas attack from a blistering agent like mustard gas, and lyrical concepts come from WWI, and they describe their music as “an attempt to channel the intense feelings of those who lived or died during that hellish era.” Now I’ve never personally experienced war, but my grandfather was on a stationed on a battleship in the Pacific during WWII, and I get a lot of the same feelings from listening to this record as I did on the very rare occasions when he would talk about the war.
In terms of the songwriting, the record seems to focus on a series of slow, tense builds followed by moments of great violence. The first two minutes or so of “Shadow of Death,” for example, are a caustic crawl that eventually opens up into machine gun blast beats. The contrast on album highlight “Enceladus” is even sharper, which alternates slow, dissonant marches with more unbridledly aggressive sections. Meanwhile, dramatic closer “Excoriation” cycles through several contrasting moods in its 7+ minute run time.
All told, Shadows of Cleansing Iron is a really solid, well-paced record that should easily satisfy most fans of the black/death genre. The fact that Vesicant show a bit more versatility than many bands who play in a similar style helps to elevate the record above the rest of the fray.
Shadows of Cleansing Iron will be available on July 14 via Iron Bonehead.