Hello and welcome to Mosh Lit, where we dive into the stories told by the heaviest bands out there. You might’ve noticed that this column has been on hiatus for a few months, but I’m thrilled to be back with a complete banger by one of my favorite bands: Praenuntius Infiniti, the latest album by South African slam monsters Vulvodynia.
Praenuntius Infiniti is a crushing apocalyptic ride that continues the storyline from Vulvodynia’s 2015 EP Finis Omnium Ignorantium, a fitting return to the band’s roots as they enter a new chapter with an expanded lineup and make their debut with metal heavyweight label Unique Leader Records. Though the core brutality that’s defined the Vulvodynia sounds remains the same, Praenuntius Infiniti incorporates elements of technical death metal, deathcore, and even a theremin for a new sound as titular character Praenuntius ravages the universe.
Formed in 2014 by vocalist Duncan Bentley and guitarist Luke Haarhoff, Vulvodynia has grown in leaps and bounds since their debut album, Lord of Plagues. When I spoke to Bentley earlier this summer, he described early Vulvodynia as an “internet band” that drew inspiration from a wide variety of music, literature, and even politics to create the heaviest sound possible. Following the gore-splattered songwriting in Lord of Plagues, Vulvodynia took a turn through a wormhole to explore more science-fiction themes in Cognizant Castigation (2014) and Finis Omnium Ignorantium, the latter of which spawned Praenuntius.
The early version of Praenuntius, a god-like being that begins devouring entire universes in an endless hunger for power, was inspired by the cover art for Finis Omnium Ignorantium.
Bentley says that Vulvodynia was intrigued by the idea of a mascot for the band and their next album, particularly with the success of bands like Nekrogoblikon. As they started writing lyrics around the eerie cover art for Finis Omnium Ignorantium, characters like Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT inspired an interdimensional beast capable of bringing down our entire reality. The name itself is derived from the Latin term for harbinger, a hint at the chaos Praenuntius will wreak in his all-consuming quest for dominance.
Long-term fans of Vulvodynia will notice another familiar face in the cover art of Praenuntius Infiniti: Bob the Butcher, the central character of the band’s 2016 release, Psychosadistic Design, which I describe as “House of 1000 Corpses” if it was narrated by Otis Driftwood. Bob’s appearance is no coincidence, according to Bentley. Fans seized on Bob almost immediately, cementing his role in the Vulvodynia universe and possibly setting the stage for a follow-up storyline in a future album. For now, however, Bob has been content running amok across the slam and brutal death metal universe on social media.
Bob’s gory origins in Psychosadistic Design set the stage for Vulvodynia’s fourth album, an explicitly political release that deals with the corruption and violence in South Africa. Mob Justice soon felt slightly too prescient as the world dealt with the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, however, the newly expanded Vulvodynia felt it was time to return to the lore of Praenuntius for their next adventure.
Bentley shared that the storyline for Praenuntius Infiniti evolved naturally with the entire band contributing to the writing process, drawing from diverse influences like War of the Worlds, The Legend of Zelda, the Doom soundtrack, comic books, plus other metal bands like The Black Dahlia Murder. They loved the idea of continuing Praenuntius’ story, but had very little idea of what the end would be, or how the music would contribute towards building a narrative. Despite the science-fiction theme, Bentley stated emphatically that Praenuntius Infiniti is the band’s realest album to date. All six members: Bentley, Haarhoff, guitarists Kris Xenopoulos and Lwandile Prusent, bassist Chris Van Der Walt, and drummer Thomas Hughes, played a major role in creating the next chapter for Praenuntius. The result is a complex, technical album that manages to tell an enthralling story of galactic proportions.
Praenuntius Infiniti features a number of known brutal death metal guests, including Jon Huber (Bludgeoned), Matti Way (ex-Abominable Putridity, ex-Pathology), Oliver Rae Aleron (Archspire), Jamie Graham (Viscera), and Jawd James (Disentomb). Christian Donaldson of Cryptopsy fame produced the record, further cementing Vulvodynia’s ties to extreme music history.
Our storyline resumes right where Finis Omnium Ignorantium left us. Praenuntius had been cast out by his creators, the Elder Gods, and banished into the abyss. But their efforts have only made him angrier and Praenuntius begins consuming entire worlds as he prepares to challenge the gods once more. Earth itself is descending into the depths of Praenuntius’ gut, traveling past the decaying galaxies already consumed by the mad deity as Praenuntius Infiniti begins.
We’re greeted by the beast himself in the first song, voiced by Bentley’s eerie growls. The shorter, almost minimalist track pulls us into the mind of Praenuntius, creating a fuller version of the character and firmly establishing him as the center of this story. When I spoke to Bentley on the development of Praenuntius Infiniti, we spent a great deal of time discussing how fan attachment to Praenuntius as a mythological creature fueled the idea for the album. The characters of Vulvodynia lore – such as Bob the Butcher as well as Praenuntius – play a considerable role in how the band builds a relationship with their listeners, expands their audience, and creates memorable music. In just over two minutes, the opening track/monologue reaffirms that connection. Sounding more like the curses of an enraged beast than a true song, the introduction gets to the heart of Praenuntius and his plans. He has been rejected by the Elder Gods, so chaos will reign.
The devastation is immediately apparent in “The Shadowy Descent of Gaia,” a song that is somehow very catchy and totally crushing. We hear from the millions dissolving into nothingness after being swallowed by Praenuntius, helplessly being consumed into the dreadful world of the depraved god-beast. Compared to the sinister, muted delivery of the intro, Vulvodynia blasts listeners in the second track with utter devastation. The consumption of Earth is deeply symbolic for Praenuntius as he rebuilds the galaxies he devours in his own twisted image. Trapped in his gut, there’s only darkness for Earth and the rest of Praenuntius’ victims.
The ruin is aptly described as “The Eternal Wasteland of Galaxies.” Our journey to the end of the world continues through the graveyard that resides within Praenuntius. Bentley mentioned that Pennywise, the time-and-reality warping creature from IT, was a major source of inspiration for Praenuntius, and this song seems to best capture the supernatural connection between the two. Like Pennywise, Praenuntius appears to transcend our limited definition of time, space, and reality. He’s not quite a god, but a twisted creation that also wields massive power. When he consumes planets and galaxies, they vanish into an alternate dimension that allows the beast to feed off their energy, condemning them to a slow death and decay. Fueled by their devastation, Praenuntius is rebirthed to challenge the gods themselves.
“Praenuntius Ascends” begins as a frenetic whirl of aggression. It’s a monster of a song, lyrically and musically, since it clocks in at nearly 5.5 minutes and features both Matti Way and Jon Huber on vocals. Having gorged himself on the destruction of galaxies, Praenuntius escapes his cosmic prison and begins his assault on the gods.
Praenuntius’ bloodthirsty rise is both furious and eerie in a two-part banger that showcases the talent of Vulvodynia’s full lineup and their guest vocalists. Bentley’s crushing growls are balanced out by the otherworldly sound of a theremin as he narrates the wave of disasters erupting on Earth: volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, earthquakes, as reality literally crumbles away. As his attacks unleash chaos, Praenuntius continues to feed off the terrified souls unfortunate enough to be in his path. As his strength grows in “Banquet of Enigmatic Horrors, Part 2: Agony,” Praenuntius fills the sky with alien eggs as he spawns new terrors.
How do you stop a demi-god that feeds off their own destruction? The Elder Gods race to the throne of Queen Ereshkigal (a name borrowed from Mesopotamian mythology, where the goddess Ereshkigal ruled the underworld) to seek counsel. A brief instrumental track, “Whispers of Calamity,” builds tension with an almost atmospheric sound that highlights the talent of Vulvodynia guitarists Kris Xenopoulos and Lwandile Prusent. Though not nearly as bludgeoning as other parts of the album, the song illustrates how much the slam group has evolved their range with the new release.
Desperate and rapidly running out of time, the gods debate how best to stop Praenuntius in “The Seven Judges.”
The track begins on a tense, eerie note, eventually exploding into a frenetic pace as the gods argue over how to end the harbinger’s reign of terror. By the end, Ereshkigal hands down her verdict: the key to defeating Praenuntius lies in the devoured worlds trapped in the beast’s gut. With the gold buried in the lost worlds, the gods will be able to build a weapon capable of killing the insatiable monster: the Deity Crusher. Though it may be a suicide mission, the Annukai (an ancient Sumerian term for their pantheon of gods) begin their quest.
Meanwhile, the last surviving people of Earth grow restless in Praenuntius’ belly. “Ravenous Revolution,” an unrelenting track that will remind longtime Vulvodynia fans why they love this unapologetically heavy slam band, narrates the fury uniting humanity after watching their loved ones perish in the path of Praenuntius.
After feasting on millions of lesser realms, Praenuntius prepares to finally devour the place of his creation: the realm of the Erishkigal and the rest of the Elder Gods. As the attack draws closer, the Annukai in his gut begin enslaving the last of the living in order to mine the gold needed to forge the Deity Crusher. With the brutal cadence of a war march, “A Cosmic Betrayal” combines flourishes of technical death metal with blasting growls to bring tension to a breaking point as the Annukai slaves prepare to rebel and Ereshkigal is forced to declare war against her returning son, Praenuntius. War breaks out both within the beast in the aptly named “The War Within.” Supported by the excellent guest vocals of Jamie Graham, Bentley narrates the final battle that’s quickly eradicating humanity’s final generations, causing enough suffering to propel Praenuntius to the heavens.
With their time rapidly coming to an end, the remaining Annukai race to forge the Deity Crusher before Praenuntius devours their very reality. Punishingly fast and leaning hard into Vulvodynia’s brutal slamming death metal roots, “Forging the Deity Crusher” might be my favorite song of the entire album simply because of its sheer ferocity and technicality. The Annukai’s efforts aren’t in vain, however, as they manage to finish the ultimate weapon just before Praenuntius breaches the gates of their immortal realm and begins consuming their ancient power in “Funeral Ov the Gods.” Energized by the feast, Praenuntius faces his last obstacle to eternal, limitless power: his creator, Queen Ereshkigal.
The final battle in “Deicidal Finality” begins as a dialogue between mother and son. After the unequivocal rage of the previous three songs, listeners have a very short moment of calm as atmosphere builds before Ereshkigal and Praenuntius meet. The brief guitar solo gives the impression of Praenuntius surveying the wreckage of the devoured holy realm, a victor calmly surveying the shredded battlefield. That is, until Ereshkigal reveals herself. Clad in golden armor and wielding the Deity Crusher, she prepares to slaughter her offspring in order to stop his quest for dominance.
The final track spans an impressive 5:50 minutes, an epic conclusion to an epic release. For early fans of Vulvodynia and other heavyweight slam bands, Praenuntius Infiniti has a lot to love: crushing riffs, fierce growls, and punishing blast beats. But even non-BSDM fans should take the time to dive into the album. It’s ambitious, interesting, and showcases a band reaching the next stage of their career with a distinctive, truly heavy sound.