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Though the resurgence of old school metal during the years circa 2010 quickly became a trend, and every band jumping on the bandwagon treads shaky ground, the same standards of judgement which separated the original mainstays from the also-rans can be applied to the aspiring newer crop. Vastum tests these waters with their debut Carnal Law, an effort toward the ethos of metal that eschews aesthetic uniqueness in favour of compositional and thematic expressiveness, though results are hit and miss. It draws from a wide range of old school influences while maintaining a distinctive voice, yet it becomes wayward when it tries too hard to waver from its own template of meditative doom-death. Even so, it's in walking this thin line that the band defines itself with relative success: songs are simple and effective for their purpose, and often focused enough to build intense moods.
Ostensible references to the more doomish parts of first album Incantation are direct but instead of the pummelling ferocity of contrast you would get from that band, Vastum opts for simple but usually effective rhythm riffing that, when it works, works well, enhancing adjoining musical elements to create mood intensity. This is best evidenced on the track ‘Devoid,’ patiently building and logically probing its way to a rigorous conclusion that seamlessly rolls into the next, ‘Umbra Interna,’ and a couple of minutes in you may barely be aware it's a new song because the internal logic of the previous is absorbed and reintegrated into a different but thematically related virus of riffing, the two songs distinct yet as a whole coherent enough for 11 minutes of something resembling the epic experience of nascent death metal like early Obituary.
For all that, it is often out of sorts, as when new ideas are introduced that take you away completely from what came before, without returning to a narrative centre, making for songs with rigidly separated figures or phrases that fit together tonally or aesthetically but not narratively. The lowpoint is the final track, containing interesting moments but at some point (the chorus), riffs become pointless and meandering, joined only by sequence of playtime or theatrical set-up (forced emotional conclusions). It's a perfect example of a band running out of ideas, though nothing here is truly terrible, and still reminds of better bands of metal past, but it’s redundant.
What saves this album is its sincerity, making for a solid debut with the right intentions and great potential for improvement, which in turn makes Vastum a band to look out for, a band overlooked in 2011, and one that holds its own against the best of the freshman and sophomoric bands of recent years. What they lack is an artistic vision greater than simply wanting to be "ritualistic," and a spiritual will more focused still to venture into that unknown.
San Francisco, 1993: a few of the guys see Autopsy play, trade bootleg Incantation tapes, and hear a rote description of My Dying Bride's As the Flower Withers (without actually hearing the album itself). They get piss-drunk, buy some time at a studio, and lay down six primitive, raw, doomy death metal tracks. After making and selling a dozen copies, they lose the master tape, and the erstwhile band just sort of fades into nonexistence. There's one guy out on the Internet who heard it once, and swears it's the greatest death metal album ever made, but his copy is stuck in the tape deck of the '89 Civic he wrecked. Eighteen years later, a savvy construction worker with a Possessed tattoo finds a copy while tearing down a condemned apartment building.
OK, I made up that story, but if that were true, it would sound exactly like Vastum's Carnal Law.
There are probably a dozen mostly-forgotten albums from 1993 that are just like this 2011 debut. They have a raw, slow death metal sound. There are some good riffs, but nothing that really stands out as anything special. The solos often resemble something out of Slayer. It's not the greatest death metal album ever released. But it ain't too shabby either. Basically, it's just here to convince you that you want to see this band live. And if they sound like this live, then you should.
The Verdict: It's not groundbreaking. It's not unique. But it's solid. It's exactly like a couple dozen death metal albums from 1993 that have been forgotten--except for that one guy who swears by it.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/