To the extent of my knowledge, refridgerators are best at two things: being human-sized beer coolers and incubating spore colonies so expansive that they threaten to become sentient. During a recent excavation to the back of my Frigidaire, I came across a bowl of particularly fecund pasta sporting several colors of mold. The plastic wrap dripped with condensation, and as I peeled it back, the stench of a bygone age escaped into the kitchen. One can imagine an equally unpleasant smell emanating from the tomb on the cover of Vircolac’s new EP, The Cursed Travails of the Demeter: mildew and rust. Decay. This five-piece out of Dublin has a sonic palette to match, playing putrid death metal that sounds like it just woke up from a dirt nap and clawed its way to the surface.
Right from the start of opening track “…Demeter,” drummer NH establishes his place at the forefront of the mix. Thanks to a great production job by Ola Ersfjord, the cymbals shine, the floor toms boom and the snare cuts through the cavernous guitars with ease, without drowning out any aspects of the songwriting. NH is no blast machine – within the first two minutes, the beats range from groovy tom rolls to precision blasting to simple rock beats without breaking stride.
If the drums form the skeleton of this body of work, the guitars (JG & BMC) and bass (KB) are the rotting flesh that encompass it. The guitars took me a while to wrap my head around, as their tone is both muddy and so bass-heavy that they sometimes collide with each other, creating a faint dissonance just below the surface. Given time and repeat listens, what was originally a bit jarring became an endearing and crucial element of this release. The riffs avoid the death metal trap of tremolo picking everything; instead, they pull from many playing styles, not limited to sloppy war metal and angular tech-death.
Vircolac are experts at the EP format, showcasing four decompositions (at just under half an hour) that bridge a range of genres without splitting at the stitches. Death metal this murky often lacks definition and becomes a puddle of mediocrity; Vircolac avoid this pitfall by writing actual songs. These tracks are studded with moments that make repeat listens a rewarding experience: the triumphant melodies and half-time feel towards the end of “…Demeter,” the absolutely rotten breakdown two minutes into “Charonic Journey (Stygian Revelation),” or the Middle-Eastern keyboard melody in “Lascivious Cruelty” are all instant earworms.
Closing track “Betwixt the Devil and Witches” pares away the density of the earlier songs, allowing KB’s bass and the acidic sneer of vocalist Laoghaire to take control. What follows is an eerie bit of storytelling, with Laoghaire’s lyrics conjuring images of a twilight gathering, replete with wailing guitars in the distance. The atmosphere reaches its peak when a march begins on the drums, accompanied by a baritone (almost liturgical) spoken word segment that evokes a procession of imps bearing their lord to parts unknown. Keep in mind, this album was released on Halloween (or Samhain, if you will) last year. Spooky!
It’s encouraging to hear such memorable songs from a band this young. Having formed at the end of 2013, this is only their second release (following 2014’s Codex Perfida), and the risks they’ve taken to expand their sound on …Demeter have paid off in full. Vircolac’s dedication to nuance is admirable: from the charming oldschool voice crack at 0:42 through “Lascivious Cruelty,” to the skronky guitar textures scattered behind the riffs throughout the EP, there’s something new to latch onto with each spin. As tongue to canker, I find myself returning frequently, despite the sickening discomfort.