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Take The Plunge Unto Bland Meanderings, My Sweet - 55%

CHAIRTHROWER, May 2nd, 2021
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Independent

Connecticut's Phil Swanson (originally, of Hour of 13 fame) fronted Vestal Claret has been around producing demos, singles and a triptych of full-lengths since its 2005 inception, in advance of further mind-blowing, intensely sonorous side projects - namely, Briton Rites and Sumerlands, of a doom-y and traditional countenance, respectively. Mildly familiar with most of the Hamden trio's material, now (s)elect outfit's third LP as token tie-maker, insofar as locked in and down-to-the-wire duel with fellow Germanic colleague for elusive #19 spot among Metal-Archives "Top 20 reviewers" (as in, most written) tabulation!

While such amiable competition is always welcome, same can't be said of Vestal Claret proper's forty minutes of gently inclined, predominantly "clean" (i.e. undistorted and oft clerical) song progressions, beginning with inauspiciously placid, even a mite soporific, opener "Empty". Above lulling guitar soon diving into Persian themed, female ululation, Mister Swanson waxes glum and despondent on VC's usual's assortment of templates: Anti-Christianity, Occultism, Satanism. At first, it sounds like prelude to a Tehran based archaeologist's nefarious encounter with cave-borne, demonic statue inherent to 1973's The Exorcist or later Hollywood scare Fallen (from 1998, featuring John Goodman and Denzel Washington).

The lengthier "Graey", for its part, continues treading similar (none-too-Holy) water, at least until midway, whence things pick up to rather church-y, equally background sung, anti-ecclesiastical revelation. Ghostly whispers nearing end cede tabernacle to "Shadows", as Swanson's vocals reach alternate heights in both pitch and delivery; however, whence about a quarter of this release evolves in such latent, balladic manner, we're left, not only clutching at shortest straws, but in a viciously languid, un-stimulating lurch, as well.

By the time "Sorrow" arises, we've to accept Vestal Claret has opted for conceptually fabled, wholly un-ruffling route; were this the Americans' first foray, highly doubt it would grace long-cherished Metal Archives pages - the paper and Middle-Ages sycophant versions, alike. Also, at this point, worthy mentions of guest musicians on piano (Matt Campbell), violin (David Caldarella), cello (Jessie May) and said femme, ectoplasmic vox (Madeline Baldwin) are in order, whilst axe/bass man Simon Tuozzoli (of Murder Castle and Owl Maker renown) finally comes into his own (element) via track number five, the Deep Purple-ish, in both nomenclature and mien, "Burn". At last! A song which gets the virgin blood pumping thanks to long-suffering distorted guitar, alongside Swanson's more egregious, or shall I say, upbeat, hypno-chants.

Drummer Justin DeTore (Summerlands, ex-Magic Circle) plays it safe, by the arcane numbers, deferring to his mates' less effervescent or outright sprite tribulations. As par for the concourse, "Abandoned", which follows suite, adheres to current default, sentimental setting - featuring, however, a neat, atypical lead - along with yet further aptly named cuts in "Melancholia" (where piano resides king - this isn't the energetically sporting, honky-tonk saloon type), not-so-frayed "Edges of Sanity", which, to its credit, re-embarks on slyly grooving route, and bluesy, '70s rock styled closer, "Devil's Dust".

Fans of aforementioned, killer acts who are nary familiar (or obsessed) with Vestal Claret, would do well to check out, instead, its chilled and relatively superior Bloodbath debut and The Cult of Vestal Claret follow-up, from 2011/'13 and 2014. Otherwise, they risk dropping out, six times out of nine, while tolerating this latent, titular offering.

p.s. The cover art is a depiction of "Satan tempts the Christ".