Review: Vvovnds – ‘Descending Flesh’

There is something in man that strives to reach, and harness, the darkest parts of both nature, and himself. It is through this pursuit of the wretched, the harrowing, and the arcane, that he learns of what can be found in the outer realms of the mind and body, and in doing so gains greater understanding of the truth. Many choose to achieve this through musical means; the eternal sorrow of country singer Tammy Wynette, the cursed participants in the oratory of Nick Cave, or the churning malevolence of bands like Portal, Anaal Nathrahk and Abruptum.

It is in the thrall of this terrible purpose that Vvovnds bring forth their first full length, ‘Descending Flesh’, on the destiny-appropriate Hypertension Records. To quote Enablers’ End Note, ‘Descending Flesh’ is “a rollicking mass of sightless matter and violent contact”, an endlessly bleak cavalcade of torrential blackness, hardship, and woe.

The first few tracks are a blur of opaque shadow, ‘Never Change’ commencing with rancid feedback and giving way almost immediately to desperate, aggressive blasting, crushed cymbal rasp, and punch-strung bass, its 57 seconds a flurry of blood-hungry fists and shock-brief battery. Tonal precedent set, what follows is almost absurd – the band’s talk of rusty prison knives, song-bombs and bile comes true with glorious abandon, ‘A La Lanterne’ calling to mind a less-grindy, but no less potent Rotten sound, dashings of Southern Lord lieutenants Baptists, and the tar-blunt rage of Full Of Hell.

It began to dawn on me that Jenci Vervaeke’s vocals may have come from a nightmare induced in a weakened mind while listening to black metal kingman Xasthur, and this choice of vocal representation is a bold one. Consumed by its own echo, his screams, groans and exorcisms are a key part of what makes this such an impossibly final album, and this is brought into focus with the total shift on Side A closer, ‘The Light’.

At 3 minutes and 48 seconds, this is ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ long for Vvovnds, and smears its foul scree with grim authority across its dirge-like substance. The production has the loosest of grasps on both the vocals and guitar during this number, cracking around the edges like an ancient cage, containing something dire. Interestingly, Vvovnds seem to have approached this record as two very separate sides, with the second, led off by ‘Coins’, being much more open, melodic in the hardest sense, and reminding me of the endless horror brought to life by Terra Tenebrosa.

‘The Whip’ is just sadistic, all rough angles and punk-edged briars, and the closing run-on of ‘Malificia’ and ‘Peine Forte’ gave me the feeling that this doomed, fiery locomotive was in fact, the Old ’97, destined to plunge headlong into a gorge of a million hammers, eradicated by its own inferno.

It is important to stress just how difficult it is to make this type of aggression stick for a whole record, to make it believable and truly convincing, and these Belgian sorcerers can take a step back from this and know that one person at least, and many more, it is to be hoped, heard ‘Descending Flesh’ and had to push their eyes back in. Fully committed to its mission from beginning to end, this is a hard-fought, malevolent masterpiece.

Review: John Tron Davidson

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