Vipassi is a name you may have heard before, as the Melbourne supergroup features Brendan Brown on bass (Ne Obliviscaris) and Dan Presland on drums (Ne Obliviscaris, A Million Dead Birds Laughing), alongside guitarists Benji Baret (Ne Obliviscaris) and Ben Boyle (Hadal Maw, A Million Dead Birds Laughing). Despite ideas for Vipassi first being thrown around back in 2007, the commitment of each member to their other projects has meant that they were never able to produce an official release. That is, until now, for their debut EP, Śūnyatā, is currently available for preorder on bandcamp ahead of its official release on February 8. Has it been worth the wait? Read on to find out.
We begin by answering the first question likely to spring to mind: given the makeup of the band, is this simply Ne Obliviscaris 2.0? The answer: no it’s not. In fact, it was the brilliant Ben Boyle who wrote the vast majority of the music here, just as he does for Hadal Maw and AMDBL; however, it’s important to note that Śūnyatā doesn’t exactly sound like one of those projects either. Sure, every now and then there will be a riff here, or a drum fill there which will remind listeners of NeO, Hadal Maw or AMDBL, but for the most part these four have created a beast all unto its own, an instrumental offering best described as a mixture of Fallujah and Beyond Creation. Atmosphere is the name of the game here, and Śūnyatā delivers it in spades. The title itself is a buddhist concept loosely translating to emptiness, voidness or spaciousness, and so it’s no surprise that these themes engulf the music itself.
The record begins with ‘Gaia’, an eerie, foreboding intro presaging what is to come. Haunting female backing vocals wade in the atmosphere which pervades the song, indeed the entire EP, as the prominent fretless bass immediately harks back to the works of Beyond Creation. The tone of the fretless bass is a perfect match for the guitars, accenting the riffs nicely when following the same lines, whilst also allowing it to carry the central melody of a song if need be. The latter is what helps make the following track, and the band’s first single, ‘Benzaiten’, one of the highlights of the release. Brown’s bass lines are infectious, flowing seamlessly alongside the guitars. As a whole, the guitars are strikingly rhythmical, forming beautiful, polyrhythmic grooves with the drumming, Presland more focused on locking onto the guitars than the bass. The riffs are pure death metal and, unlike some of their peers, truly memorable, a characteristic which can be lost on the more tech-orientated instrumentalists out there. Similarly, the solos here aren’t overindulgent or unnecessarily flashy, despite the obvious talent on display. Instead this is an exercise of substance over style, each solo composed to fit the overall body of work, designed to work within, and not against, the dense atmospheres being created.
The ethereal, dreamy female backing vocals add a chilling beauty to each track, the perfect fit for the both the music and the mythological concepts behind the record. Yet, at no stage does their inclusion seem formulaic or predictable. In addition, these vocals are superbly juxtaposed with Boyle’s grunting harsh vocals on ‘Elpis’, the latter’s inclusion adding an occult, ritualistic dread to the track, emotions entirely befitting this release. Another highlight comes in the form of closing track ‘Samsara’, the way in which they layer and build the track, only to take it down once more, indicative of how they’ve incorporated elements of post-rock without being derivative, always managing to retain their own sound. Production-wise the album is phenomenal for an independent release, the drums in particular sounding beautifully crisp. The mix is also spot-on, each instrument clearly audible and given plenty of space in which to operate. On any level, be it composition, drums, bass, guitars or production, it really is a challenge to find faults here, Boyle & co. coming up trumps with one of the freshest death metal releases you’re likely to hear this year.
Memorable, atmospheric and deeply emotional, this is everything the latest Fallujah record should have been. There doesn’t seem to be anything quite like it out there, with its main drawback being that, at just over 30 minutes in length, there simply isn’t enough of it. Still, we must remember that this isn’t a full-length and that, in comparison to other EPs, its runtime is still quite healthy. Given that their other projects are in the middle of writing/touring/recording, this might be all we get from Vipassi for some time. Be sure to savour every moment of it.
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Vipassi – Śūnyatā gets…