Vulnificus - Invocation

13 Sep 2022 - Joshua

Brutal Death Metal | New Standard Elite | Release date: 10 Jun 2022

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Artistic labor is labor. That’s an idea that came up around the impromptu craft circle of friends, family, and womxn expressing their creative talent my partner convened on Friday. If you haven’t been exposed to this idea before or enough—first, that’s on purpose! Myths about the “purity” of art rarely serve the interests of artists or the people. Second, there are many great resources available on the Web to learn more. But today I want to talk to you about artistic labor in the form of the EP, and recommend a recent brutal death metal stunner, Invocation by Vulnificus, the infectious new bacteria all the kids are contracting — or should be.

This Labor Day weekend coincided with the return of Bandcamp Friday, which has for the last two years been for me something of a rotating holiday celebrated with great anticipation and — I can’t deny it — some moral handwringing. It shouldn’t be like this but, given the many artists I feel loyalty to, as well as my voracious appetite for discovery, I must make practical decisions about how to spread my little cash around. Like all the artists and fans out there, I’m a laborer — contingently employed and alienated to the point of drudgery — trying to make a living in a society that rarely, and pretty much only then begrudgingly, remunerates people for what truly brings them life or adds most to its quality.

Vulnificus understand this and they’re taking these misplaced values by the throat for some forced perspective. Consider these lyrics at the heart of “Coerced into Compliance”: “Subjugation invoked since birth / Suffocated in cognitive dissonance / In desperate fear of life’s impermanence / Coerced into compliance / Confirm and you will be used / Resist and you will be abused / Refute and you will be used.” A bacterial infection that keeps regular company with necrosis and sepsis, the band’s namesake Vibrio vulnificus’ most frightening effect is probably that it renders wounds incurable: imagine what it would be like to live in this brutal world, beset from all angles by physically and psychologically wounding forces, knowing every wound inflicted will become a permanent part of your suffering existence. If your turn of mind is such that this already seems a not unrealistic metaphor for the unjust, ravaging world we do live in, then vocalist and lyricist Eston Browne (Abolishing the Ignominious) and polymath of all instruments Wilson Sherels (Daraku Shita Kanjo, Epidermolysis, Urotherapy…um, check Metal Archives, ‘cause we’ve been sleeping…) have something for you on Invocation.

This is demanding brutal death metal. It has a forbidding and uncompromising aesthetic. It’s not for everyone, and that’s as it should be. But I do dislike seeing people make the mistake of assuming this music is made by and for maniacs, or that the death metal community is not inclusive or full of incredibly tender, beautiful humans who care deeply enough about this world and its ills to hold up the most outrageously exacting moral mirrors before human monstrosity. That’s lazy stereotype, just the worst kind of way to denounce a culture in the very act of first exposing yourself to it. I mean, each extreme music community has serious work to do in rooting out its biases and reckoning with its mistakes. That’s what the people who care most about the music — who in substance ARE these communities — are doing all the time—courageously showing improvement. And that’s what I love about Vulnificus: while eviscerating you with technical brutality, they give you some gristly thought matter to chew on and a chance to dare greater.

After a spacey sample calls out social media as public enemy number one, “The Viral Virus” blasts forth with a double-edged razor riff and Browne goes straight for his audience: “What else can you expect from a species that has cultivated the worst of atrocities?” Yeah, right? Then the break and things get really intense. Sherels sits back for a controlled swing on the kit. Follow the snare as it punctuates the surgical slicing on his guitars and you’ll catch a fire. The best kinds of this death metal move the body. It’s why I’ve lovingly taken to calling the BSDM I prefer “booty-shaking death metal.” And I’m calling it: Vulnificus have big intentions to vie with the experts. Without sacrificing the raw immediacy of their debut Innomination, on Invocation they’ve opted for a drier production to better accentuate the dynamic cut of instruments and I’m hearing echoes of the very best — Cryptopsy, Defeated Sanity, Dying Fetus, Suffocation. And listen to Browne’s vocals in this section. After that opening hook, he continues growling, “To orchestrate methods of psychological control…” - and on “conTROL” he springs a laryngeal trapdoor to bottom-out in the cellar, continuing - “…and subversion / The virus of gratification / The cancer is spreading / Contagion all around.” It’s so fucking sick! Contrary to what you may have heard, it is possible to relish these kinds of vocals, especially when you’ve got a craftsperson like this who understands and chases cadence, articulation, and drama. Four songs on this EP treat you to that kind of display AND the social-critique goods to refuse and resist propaganda, those manipulations of media and language designed to atomize, desensitize, and subvert the people. Vulnificus are here to fight back. Invocation also features the instrumental track, “Instruments of Indiscrimination,” on which Sherels slows things down the old Nile way to accentuate the juice on the guitars and grease and grime up the kits. It sounds improvised to me with an addictive loping swing, and I love how the murderous riff slices laterally across the beat. 2021’s Innomination said, “Did you say brutal?” Invocation: “Y’all on notice!”

This weekend I was surprised to discover how many EPs I was digging into. It’s tough to ration out what you can afford, but don’t forget out the humble EP — which can be an important stopgap measure for artists on the fringes who need to pay bills, as well as a way for them to share with you personalized glimpses into their evolving creative process. Vulnificus are making moves. In fact, despite some difficult circumstances (Sherel’s based in Indy, Browne in Pittsburgh), they managed to pull together their first tour with Deterioration with dates throughout the Midwest and ending out East. Unfortunately, they’ve just had to cancel for unforeseen circumstances impeding Sherel’s ability to perform. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to catching a set at the Very Famous X-Ray Arcade this week. But, hey, they’ve got sick merch and I even heard on Facebook about a compilation combining their EPs. These are hard-laboring gents on a mission and they could use our support. Now, back to spending time with my loved ones on this holiday weekend, because that’s what we do: we support each other.