Welcome to Mosh Lit, our new monthly column on storytelling in the world of metal.
Given the smashing success of Godzilla vs Kong last month, it seems appropriate to kick off this column contemplating the soothing power of monster movies.
Yes, you read that correctly. But hear me out. After battling a microscopic virus for over a year, the idea of a megafauna villain seems oddly peaceful. The average citizen of the Godzilla vs Kong universe probably isn’t thrilled with the situation, but they definitely aren’t stressing about a sore throat when trying to dodge a 337 foot tall ape that’s battling an atomic dinosaur. And that’s what makes monster movies so special; they completely remove us from reality and allow us to escape the daily worries of life to debate what would happen if a supersized ape could fight an atomic dinosaur.
Metal often has the same effect, particularly in the more extreme corners of the genre. Heavy music is the culmination of talented artists who push themselves to their limits and bring us into their universe. The unexpected and crazy things that happen when creative people are allowed to run wild with their art, regardless of medium, result in moments of sheer fun that keep fans returning to over-the-top genres like science fiction and metal.
With that common thread, it’s no surprise that heavy music has rich history of experimenting with science fiction themes. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Voivod all explored sci-fi concepts in the 1980’s, which was coincidentally a blockbuster decade for sci-fi films, televisions, and books. In the midst of Cold War tensions and the beginning of the modern technological age, society turned to sci-fi to contemplate heavy questions around ethics, the meaning of humanity, and what truly defines good vs evil. Godzilla as a character also became part of this societal debate as the 1991 film Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, which was the first to definitively tie the monster’s origins to nuclear experimentation.
Decades later and facing yet another series of existential questions, a new generation of metal bands and slew of Godzilla films are producing heavy-hitting and surreal works that give audiences a moment of escapism while exploring fundamental debates.
Harvest Misery – Harvest Misery
Which brings us to today’s analysis: Harvest Misery (2016), the first release by a South African slam band of the same name. The album is a terrific slab of brutality for a first release, unsurprising given that the lineup included veterans like vocalist Duncan Bentley (Vulvodynia, The Elite Five, Nervectomy, XavlegbmaofffassssitimiwoamndutroabcwapwaeiippohfffX) and Byron Dunwoody (XavlegbmaofffassssitimiwoamndutroabcwapwaeiippohfffX, formerly Vulvodynia). Dunwoody, the primary writer of the project, stated that Harvest Misery was intended to be story-driven from the beginning. The result is damn good music that also happens to have a wild sci-fi plot that wouldn’t be out of place on the big screen.
The music itself appeals to fans of Vulvodynia or Wormhole, another sci-fi themed band that counted Bentley as a member from 2015 – 2017. Though theatrical elements with technical and even black metal touches are woven in throughout the album, the audience is undoubtedly brutal slamming death metal fans as alien species battle it out for supremacy. Guest appearances by Alci Turri (Thirteen Bled Promises), CJ McCreery (Lorna Shore, Signs of the Swarm), and JJ Polachek (7 Horns 7 Eyes) further add to the rage and range of Harvest Misery, bringing additional firepower (pun intended) to an existential war.
Harvest Misery tells the story of an epic battle between two alien species, the Xenoluvians and the Existomalus, over Earth some eight million years into the future. In the early tracks, the Xenoluvians become the dominant species of Earth and enslave humanity by combining their DNA with our own, creating a hybrid slave species. The first half of the eight track album is dedicated to the Xenoluvians conquering Earth, growing fat and greedy until the Existomalus invade on track six, aptly entitled “Existomalus Invasion.”
The one exception to Harvest Misery’s crushing slams is the opening track, which has an almost atmospheric sound with subtle nods to the fast pace of later tracks. Not quite fully black metal, not fully death metal, “Xenoluvian Ancients” builds an eerie tension that perfectly matches the opening scene of the storyline, where the Xenoluvians descend from the heavens and begin their mutant invasion of Earth. Just like a good book, listeners can visualize dark ships emerging from the alien skies and feel the slow realization of doom as an unknown enemy begins its invasion.
By the second song, humanity is well on its way to being absorbed by the superior species, bemoaning the loss of their very souls as they become the zombified slaves of the Xenoluvians. The tempo is punishing, with the growling vocals of Bentley alternating between the perspectives of the humans and Xenoluvians. Humanity is horrified by and yet passive to their domination, knowing that beneath the human hybrid surface is an ancient species too terrifying to comprehend. The combination of technical death metal with Bentley and Dunwoody’s signature slam is deliciously over-the-top and extremely well suited to a species facing its own extinction in the midst of a violent, unholy invasion.
Harvest Misery is also an impressive performance in pacing, building the tempo and foreboding until the invasion of Existomalus, a mechanical alien army determined to wipe out all organic life. The misery of the enslaved humans is quickly overshadowed by the battle between the Xenoluvians, who turn mankind into their bloody armor, and the Existomalus. Existomalus Invasion contrasts extremely catchy guitar riffs that wouldn’t be out of place in a big budget film soundtrack, punctuated by Bentley’s guttural screams. The final tracks abandon the atmospheric hints of humanity’s existential crisis, preferring to set the scene with a bludgeoning and violent sound that’s pure brutal death metal. The result transports listeners to devastated battlefields that run red with human blood.
What species prevails? You’ll have to listen to Harvest Misery and discover that for yourselves. But rest assured that while this sci-fi slammer delivers on an epic storyline, it also brings the riffs and brutality to satisfy any slam fans that just need those sweet, sick blasts.
Vermicular Incubation – Chapter of the Vermin Domain
The first (and so far, only) album from international slamming brutal death metal group Vermicular Incubation, Chapter of the Vermin Domain starts off as a battle against a deadly plague and evolves into a cosmic horror invasion in just 32 minutes and 50 seconds of ear-splitting ferocity. Self-described as “sci-fi and ultragore” themed, this album is not for the faint of heart.
As usual, humanity is its own worst enemy. The short intro track immediately builds tension with growls set against ambient background music. The stage is set as your mind’s eye sweeps over the wreckage of a scientific lab, smashed equipment piled everywhere, blood sprayed over random surfaces. The last of the broken lights flickering as you wonder what the hell happened here…or worse, what caused the destruction.
Vermicular Incubation doesn’t leave you hanging. The second track blasts your ears with the realization that humanity has engineered its own destruction. Aptly titled “Molecular Deformity,” listeners are confronted by muscular riffs and guttural squeals that reflect the experience of the VI lineup, which includes members of Hurakan, Facelift Deformation, and former members of Analepsy and Child of Waste. As your ears are pummeled, it’s clear that whatever mutant was created by the lab team, it has escaped, and it’s angry.
Thought this was just a monster flick? Guess again. Chapter of the Vermin Domain makes an abrupt left turn into cosmic horror as the third song opens a wormhole to an ancient evil that goes far beyond human comprehension. Uncompromising and unrelenting, a wave of darkness falls over the planet as the laboratory mutant awakens a reign of destruction. A savage combination of man-made mutants and supernatural demons join forces to unleash a violent apocalypse. Parasites feed on humanity physically and spiritually, causing mass insanity and death.
Unlike Harvest Misery, which incorporated notes of black metal and technical metal to build atmosphere, Vermicular Incubation delivers pure slamming brutality as new layers of terror and destruction sweep across the earth. Theatrical flourishes and sound effects of monstrous growls and people screaming in terror are all cinematic flair needed to drive home the devastation that unfolds in Chapter of the Vermin Domain. It’s the bizarre, bludgeoning type of storytelling that perfectly suits brutal slamming death metal and satisfies the horror fans that hate happy endings.