Late night sojourns to the highest peak in the region to find me supine and acutely nocturnal. The cloud cover renders the stars obstructed, akin to the vision in light and smog polluted cities of the world. Those places are claustrophobic, humans everywhere. Who are they? Measuring themselves by each other and dwelling, consuming. Here, there is no one and my body crumbles to dust. No being, nothing. The dissipation of the clouds reveals the expansion of the universe. It goes on and on, brighter and absorbed. Species and race, opinion and ego all vaporised and gone, they never were anyway.
Black metal has long been a genre I associate with the depth of these contemplations. Getting lost in Norwegian landscapes and ancient folklore whilst listening to Arcturus and Ulver has been a great conduit for them too. For some reason black metal musicians encapsulate vast, open space in the atmosphere they create. Vehemal is no exception to this either. Their album The Atom Inside allows me to drift away from civilisation in the same way as my stargazing adventures. I certainly don’t take this for granted either, performing in this group must take a lot of work.
I am pleased to note that the band’s aligned with these sentiments too. From their website the intent is obvious:
We are of atoms and Milky way, guided by the violence and the intensity of the Universe. The dark matter holding our fragmented humanity together. We are the crude mirror showing the failure of our existence. We come to avenge our infinite potential and from it’s exposed guts, we will dirt the guilty face of mankind. We are Vehemal.
Vehemal is a solid, solid slab of black and avant-garde metal; combining the guttural growl of Martine Bourque, the ethereal guitars of Marie-Josée Sévigny, and Neuromancer, all held together by the brutal rhythm section of bassist Guy Beaupré and drummer Keven Cabana. Daniel Simard tracked the lead guitars on the album, Anya Hallmich tracked the bass lines and Sarah Lecompte Beregeron tracked the drums. The album is structured in a very classical style. Opening track “Les particules élémentaires” serves as a somber prelude with throat singing and strings that are almost dirge-like. This piece is a highlight, but this album is not about highlights, it’s conceptual, a listening and emotional experience.
The ¾ feel that introduces the albums first bout of pure black metal is very deceptive. “Progéniture échouée” encapsulates the brutality that follows and steers the listener directly toward the abyss. Indeed, the ebb and flow of the album is paced very well and seems to pinnacle at the track “Milky Way”. Spoken word on top of staccato double-kick bass drums leads into a song with double digit feel changes. It’s spellbinding, keeping the ear transfixed but allowing the mind to journey deeper and deeper. The final movement to the album begins with the title track “The Atom Inside”. The fidelity of the recorded audio is on show here with the deep, reverberant tom sound and perfectly balanced dual guitar solos creating a rich and full stereo field. I guess some people would class this as difficult listening but I find it to be a very beautiful experience. I feel like Vehemal create a backdrop for my own introspection but never intervene. I was riveted by this album and, as I eluded to before, I am very grateful that there are musicians out there who are passionate and committed enough to make this music happen.
Returning to the vista where the night sky prevails, all the stars in the world are out tonight. Vehemal echoes at the edges of the silence and the cold wind. There’s a kinship to music like this, giving meaning to humanity but remaining focussed on the deep mind. For contemplatives everywhere I hope they have a long and prosperous career and reap the internal benefits of the emptiness they channel, disappearing more and more everyday.