Vessel Decimal – To Be And Not To Be – Album Review
I actually scratched my head in wonder of when the last time I reviewed something metal-esque was when I started listening to Vessel Decimal’s new record To Be And Not To Be…definitely felt like it’s been longer than normal. Check it out at the homepage – it actually was a considerable amount of time ago…last evidence of anything with a metal was about three-pages back or so…that’s about 20-25 reviews back now, so it truly HAS been forever.
Maybe that’s why the full-on assault and brutality in Vessel Decimal’s music was like a serene breath of fresh air. Mind you…that’s a breath to be taken with a cold punch to the face…but I have to admit, after so much time away from the extreme sounds that fill the dark soul of metal-music – I was more than happy to take the audio-beatdown and get right into this record. I checked out what I could from Vessel Decimal’s online pages & videos…it’s a pretty mysterious set of information that still leaves a lot of questions fully unanswered…like…how many people are in this band anyway? Gotta say – it seems like an extreme amount of noise for one dude to be making…but I’m not sure if I’ve seen any definitive proof out there to say for sure one way or the other truthfully. I’d certainly assume full-band…there’s a ton going on in the music of Vessel Decimal – whether it’s one person or a roomful, it’s a serious metal record full of meaty sound and versatile ideas.
With a slow electro-pulse opening “Distractors” and the beginning sounds of guitar & drums heading into the mix, it takes next to no time at all for the gears to start their real grinding; this song becomes gigantic even before it hits its first minute. If I’m being entirely honest – I wasn’t so sure about the initial tones of the lead guitar as it headed into that first minute, but it quickly resigns control and dives into deep chops & jagged-cuts that have the bite, heaviness, edge & strength of a band like Meshuggah. Impressive drums…smart synth layers…vocals are terrifyingly monstrous but already display promise beyond the growl…you get a good mix of what Vessel Decimal is capable of here in this first massive dose of extreme sound. Essentially…there’s a lot more to offer the ears than just a one-note metal project – you can hear from the transitions, writing and approach that “Distractors” indicates there’s bound to be plenty of demented & wicked twists throughout To Be And Not To Be.
“Hepatitis” comes out with enormous sound and explosive energy immediately, right on-target for the ambitions of these gigantic ideas. Definite props to the mixing going-on here…anyone that’s mixed metal-music in their lifetime before understands the sheer degree of difficulty is usually tougher to harness than the rest…I mean seriously…imagine trying to contain the beastly sounds on “Hepatitis!” It’s the kind of song so burly, gnashing and punishing that if you were a sound engineer you’d be likely to bring a Louisville Slugger with you to the studio just in case you needed to defend yourself physically against the onslaught of sound coming at ya. I can totally remember when songs as extreme and unrelenting as “Hepatitis” were beyond the scope of what I could handle, or what I’d seek out to listen to personally…it wasn’t until the beginning of sleepingbagstudios that I truly felt like I found people that knew enough about the foundations of metal within the independent music-scene that really got into it with me to explain what makes the good stuff good and the great stuff great. I’m confident those same people would dig the brutality in the cutting-rhythms of “Hepatitis” but also really dig the amount of skill and respect that Vessel Decimal clearly shows for metal on this record. Like the disease itself – “Hepatitis” never lets up…it’s bound to make many uncomfortable…but for fans of real metal that delivers on the promise of extreme ideas fused together by grinding guitars and burning energy, you’ll fully dig this like I did.
When “Amorphous” starts to put its full-scope of ideas on display, you can hear Vessel Decimal lighten-up just slightly to incorporate a bit more defined melody & guitar-riffage in the mix, which often leads the sound in a more accessible direction. Mind you – lyrically…let’s just say that Vessel Decimal has far from lightened-up in that department…so while the music might end up being more accessible to the masses in parts – it’s actually tough to say if the end result would be drawing people in more-so than the others we’ve heard so far when the content is still twisted & dark. It’s a cyclical conversation that I’ve encountered many times however…bottom line is people making music in the Vessel Decimal style generally aren’t looking to appeal to the masses and are more than fine with getting their fans by simply keeping it real & without pretense. “Amorphous” is quite stunning in how it threads through so many different parts of its overall complexity; like many songs-within-songs or lengthy progressive ideas you’re bound to have your favorite moments or parts within the main idea…nothing wrong with that. I think the monotone style of the vocals sometimes works in favor of the music…but at times I questioned it as well. It’s a much tougher style of singing than people give it credit for being…the notes are generally so low that they essentially get pushed out with the air being breathed by the singer and it’s straight-up difficult to get the power into that method on the best of attempts. Vessel Decimal does a decent job here…but no lie, it’s the amped-up energy in the song’s chorus & sporadic wild-moments and the creepiness in the breakdowns that win the awards when it comes to the vocals on “Amorphous.”
Loved the guitars that start out the short, demonic-burst of sound on “Tisk Tisk.” It’s a short track, designed for maximum impact in just-over two-minutes long…and I think it succeeds in hitting the mark. “Tisk Tisk” holds your attention with a cold, icy grip; seriously rad guitar-lines on this cut and the vocal snarls & growls fit this cut perfectly. Definitely takes Vessel Decimal more towards that niche audience of real metal-music lovers…but really smart choices and focus are on full display here. Really dig that extra layer of like…synth-voice or backing vocals that creeps in to the mix on “Tisk Tisk” – but nothing really beats the epic grind of that main guitar-riff…that’s just pure sonic force right there is what that is.
“Scenarios Of The Unkind” has an interesting mix of ideas…some that work really well & a few that struggle…all within a nearly eight-minute’s worth of ambitious effort. The range of vocal approaches, sounds, textures and tones works very similarly to the progressive ideas and constant flow of them in the music in that some are bound to resonate more strongly with us than others might. For the most part – I really think the singer’s voice is a great fit; at times where it doesn’t work quite as well for me, I can hear more of an attempt to make the performance real entertainment, dramatic and theatrical. Not always my thing personally, no matter the genre or band…the important thing is that the material is approached with confidence and Vessel Decimal follows through on the intentions and ideas of the writing. For some people out there…this kind of extra performance added into the mix of the music & writing on “Scenarios Of The Unkind” hits that perfect combination…makes the edge of the metal lean more towards the artistic-side of the dark sonic-art that it is and I can respect that.
I’ll say this – the vocals in Vessel Decimal sound unique to this music in the sense that you can hear they’ve clearly got just as much potential for new-wave or post-punk music as they do here making metal. This is much more pronounced through the slow-pace of “The Great Depression” – definitely a highlight for me on this record. I think you get more of an expressive performance from the vocals…there’s plenty of emotion in the atmosphere and clever wordplay in the lyrics that really make the verse & chorus flow insightfully & hauntingly-well. Led by piano – it might be a slower-tempo tune but inarguably you get much more melody here and overall, “The Great Depression” really comes out sounding like a fully focused & realized idea executed exactly as intended. While it might be more of a departure from the ripping & relentless pound of VD’s overall style/sound – it’s one that works and ideas I’d certainly encourage this project to continue to explore…definitely one of my favorites.
From what I’ve digested in listening to this record, Vessel Decimal does well with longer tracks for sure – but the focus in the shorter cuts really seems to yield impressive results. “Words Of Encouragement” seems to come out on a bit of shaky ground at first…I found this cut was one of the songs that continually got better through repeat listens. The bizarre approach of the opening vocals fades into the most confident & powerful burst of vocals to follow immediately after; again in less than ninety-seconds, on the record’s shortest tune, Vessel Decimal still ranges through at least three separate sets of tones and approaches to how the vocals sound. It creates a rad contrast between the different tones trading-off their time on the mic and the stomping & storming of “Words Of Encouragement” is huge. Am I completely crazy here though? I know there’s a lot going-on in the mix…but am I hearing like…a synthetic bird-chirp or something buried in here somewhere? Subtle but rad addition, whatever it is.
After breaking the grind towards the more theatric & artistic-side of metal over the last two tracks, Vessel Decimal comes out punishing like never before on “The Scrambling.” By the time you get to the first short break around 1:15, you’ve already endured a fast-paced musical mine-field of mayhem – the drums in this song are INSANITY…but you know, like, the good kind of insanity. Much could be said the same about the vocals, which are at their lowest-of-low tones and gurgling out words like blood pumps out of a jugular vein. The real breakdown and switch in direction for this song occurs cleverly around the midpoint…and while I wouldn’t argue that the song becomes more accessible in this particular moment – I would definitely argue that VD creates spectacular entertainment here through this transformation. A song like this would be absolutely amazing live…the beginning alone is so brutally powerful and unrelenting…then into smart synth-accented verses, clever vocal-effects & layers…again, very impressive production throughout this record…but yeah, listen to that transition around 2:15 and the extraordinary sounds happening in the atmosphere here. The vocal bring-back is absolutely one of my favorite moments on the entire record; they’re far from restrained here and completely filled with madness in a performance that holds nothing back.
Alright…those bird-chips are back…so either I’m here tripping-balls or they really do exist on this record. “Dear Jane” opens with nature’s alarm-clock and a much gentler-rhythm and acoustic-led beginning. It’s the closest to a Pop-song that you’ll find on To Be And Not To Be in terms of the groove in the music or vocal-flow; that being said, the dissonant tones of the vocals are a tougher match for the brighter tones in the music. If anyone remembers the one-man project known as Prick from the 90’s or…you could also compare the fit of the vocals to a band like Placebo in a sense as well; the kind of vocals that really have some amazing moments straight-off the bat and many others where listening ears are required to warm-up to their ideas, tones and overall sound. I think “Dear Jane” has more of that disjointed connection than any of the other songs on this album…I have no doubt that this one is a tougher sell to most ears out there. The idea is intact…the execution in the music is as spot-on as ever, as is the production; it comes down to whether or not people will be able to accept the wandering of the flow and tone in the vocals here. “Dear Jane” sounds slightly confused at times in terms of which way they want the vocals to come out…almost at times sounding like changing horses mid-stream to abandon one approach for another – the kind of song that since being recorded I’d being willing to bet that Vessel Decimal has spent more time with and already found a way to refine those moments with added confidence. I dig the shifting of the sound overall on “Dear Jane” and how it goes from its acoustic-based beginning into an electric second-half with smooth transitions and ideas in the writing…I like that there are a ton of progressive switches along the adventure; and even though “Dear Jane” comes out less straightforward than most on the record, there are plenty of bold moments of redemption I think people will appreciate.
Right before the end of the album, you get a tasty-treat in the beastly form of “Zeroth Place” – another short & extremely rad track on To Be And Not To Be. Serious CRUNCH to these guitars…really smart vocals that are either like, backwards or in full-whisper mode…layered in immaculately into the grind of the “Zeroth Place” brilliantly just underneath the surface of the grinding mayhem. Excellent ideas in the synth elements added-in; this might be a clever experiment in looping/editing sound in a sense…but I think it’s another one that works to deliver a captivating & charismatic track with real attitude and ideas apart & different from the rest.
Speaking of different…just as you’re about to pull out your lighter and wave it in the air, sure that Vessel Decimal has saved ‘the babymaker’ and most romantic song slickly until the end as “Closing Circle” begins – thirty-seconds or so, VD throws the switch and comes down slamming right off the top ropes for one of the records most memorable highlights and displays of pure brute-force in music. After everything I’ve heard throughout To Be And Not To Be, this song time-after-time sounds like what the Vessel Decimal sound can become at its most focused, powerful and confident. Every twist & turn in the writing here sends you right down the rabbit-hole with the music…you want to follow this one everywhere it goes because everything has seriously clicked-in to place here. The mid-song switch was smart…the trading conversations through the voices (perhaps internal!) work well throughout, as do the transitions in the writing from beginning to end here. “Closing Circle” perhaps puts its most impressive elements on display right in the record’s final-minute as it implodes inwards to an intimate synth-piano melody and melancholy goodbye to end the album.
No doubt about it to me – Vessel Decimal has created a wild, punishing and versatile set of songs here that should scratch the itch for the metal-heads out there. To Be And Not To Be offers a full range of sounds, styles and approaches – many times during the course and confines of a single song along the way; but for fans of the progressive-side and those that like their music to have a dangerous, seething & menacing edge to it, this one’s for you.
Find out more about Vessel Decimal at the official homepage: www.vesseldecimal.com
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!